Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes says he is duly leery of taking campaign contributions from companies or individuals his office is or might be suing, prosecuting or negotiating with.
And Purdue Pharma is one of the companies that many other states and local governments — including Salt Lake County — are suing for its role in flooding the nation with highly addictive and too-often deadly opioid painkillers.
Paincausers is often more like it. The toll in recent years in Utah alone has been two dozen deaths per month from opioid overdoses.
The Utah Legislature in its last session passed a non-binding resolution urging Reyes to join with other states and local governments in bringing such a suit. The idea is not only to punish Big Pharma for its irresponsible marketing and distribution of such powerful chemicals but also to claw back some of the millions of dollars states and municipalities have spent in picking up the pieces, the medical bills and — literally — the bodies left behind.
Until recently, Reyes had been reluctant to do so. His people said they were talking to Purdue and other companies about entering into some kind of settlement agreement, one that could avoid the cost and time that could, indeed, go with a litigation-first approach.
But state and local officials in Utah were unhappy as they watched other states jumping the queue ahead of us. They were rightly worried about the likelihood of Utah missing out on a big payday, not just out of greed or retribution but the need to pay for public services stressed by the epidemic.
Tuesday, six more states entered the lawsuit. Wednesday, we were told, Utah will, too.
Reyes’ people (the attorney general himself seems always too busy to discuss the matter in public) say the negotiations over a settlement that won’t involve a lawsuit will continue. And that’s fine. It might work.
But the chances of it working seem much improved if Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies know that it is in their best interest to avoid a court judgment by offering Utah and other governments a really good deal, one that saves everyone involved a lot of time and legal fees but that also helps make the taxpayers whole for the cost of this man-made epidemic.
The taxpayers may be properly compensated. Those who have been addicted, and those who have died, never will be.