You may have seen the news on Purdue Pharma's $8 billion dollar settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) spread through your feeds over the last 24 hours. The public sentiment, i.e. media, is that it's a victory for our healthcare system, the public, and loved ones of the victims who lost their lives due to this virulent disease. While I agree that it has certainly held those responsible partially accountable for their actions, especially in regards to their aggressive marketing and sales tactics that led to a rapid rise in prescriptions, I still believe that a lot needs to be done in order for us to feel confident that another crisis at this magnitude doesn’t occur again.
To break this down further, let’s unpack the settlement: Purdue Pharma will “cease to exist in its current form”. What that means is that it will be spun off into a new entity that will oversee the distribution and coverage of “millions of doses of live-saving addiction treatments and overdose reversal medications” to the public. Further, the Sackler Family who founded Purdue in the 1980s will pay a separate settlement of $225 million. While this may sound like a lot of money to the average person, it stands nowhere near the total indirect costs of the epidemic, which some have estimated to be above $1 trillion. While Purdue shouldn’t be the only entity to be held financially accountable, that would be unrealistic and frankly unfair, we still need to pressure test the settlement and guide the funds into programs and initiatives that not only treat the current problem but more importantly could prevent a new drug crisis from emerging.
Instead of just funneling the money from the settlement into a new drug that treats addiction, the DOJ, with the support of Purdue and other entities responsible for the crisis, should fund initiatives and programs that could prevent a new drug crisis from emerging. This includes technologies and innovations that could reduce the risk of addiction. Funding new treatments for pain that have abuse-deterrent qualities is another space that requires more attention. Instead of continuing to just treat the problem, we should be aspirational and forward-thinking in our approach to this settlement, which is something I did not see emerge, yet.
Lastly, as we are approaching the tail end of these settlements that spanned over 3 years, it’s important to reflect back on how we handled the opioid crisis. As more chronic pain patients and providers are being threatened by stricter regulations around opioid prescribing, we need to ask ourselves if this is truly a win? Indeed, overprescription leads to misuse, however, is it fair to cut compliant patients off their meds by making it harder for providers to treat them? Similarly, are settlements the only way to mitigate the risks of another epidemic? At Pilleve, we have a different approach that’s grounded in patient-centric innovation that meets people in the middle. Like many other solutions out there, we believe that digital health can help mitigate these risks while maintaining access and not ostracizing stakeholders who stand to benefit from the outcome.