Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Walla Walla Union Bulletin and The Seattle Times. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
The federal government sent a clear — and welcome — signal last week that it was taking the nation’s opioid crisis seriously.
The Justice Department announced it will support local officials in hundreds of lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of opioid painkillers.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “It’s a real realization of what has been going on.”
Some of those lawsuits have been filed in Washington state. Last year the cities of Everett and Tacoma took legal action against the manufactures of three prescription opioids.
While the opioid crisis gets the most attention in Ohio and other Rust Belt states, it’s a pervasive problem fueled by addiction to painkilling drugs in the Pacific Northwest, including the Walla Walla Valley.
The lawsuits in Washington state allege the drugmakers’ actions have fueled the homelessness crisis, strained police resources and caused the health insurance costs to skyrocket. The lawsuit accuses the companies of falsely claiming the risk of becoming addicted to opioids was low, while ignoring the risks of long-term use.
About 30 state and local jurisdictions throughout the nation have filed similar cases against drug manufacturers.
We believe this approach will likely yield results, much like what took place when states took on Big Tobacco. The settlement forced tobacco companies to pony up cash to mitigate problems from tobacco use. In addition, it pushed Big Tobacco to act more responsibly in peddling its deadly product.
Last week’s decision to join with states is part of a broader effort to more aggressively target prescription drugmakers for their role in the epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. The Justice Department argues the federal government has borne substantial costs as a result of the crisis that claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016.
In addition, the Justice Department’s action could increase the role of the federal government in talks aimed at reaching a settlement between government entities, drugmakers, distributors and others.
A federal judge in Cleveland is overseeing the talks as an attempt to resolve the case involving more than 370 plaintiffs. About 40 states are conducting a joint investigation of the crisis, which could result in further lawsuits.
Any deal could include billions of dollars in payments to be used for treatment programs and abuse prevention, and to cover some of the costs incurred by government dealing with the crisis, The Associated Press reports.
That’s a start. But more will have to be done.
The majority of opioid deaths now involve illegal drugs, especially the ultra-potent opioid fentanyl, which has resulted in drug-related deaths doubling in 2016.
The Justice Department’s action is welcome in this fight to reduce opioid deaths.
Keep up the net neutrality fight
Washington representatives in the state Legislature and Congress are showing great leadership in their work to restore net-neutrality protections.
This crusade should continue until sense is restored at the Federal Communications Commission, which voted in December to rescind its 2015 net neutrality rules, including the classification of broadband as an essential utility.
That capped a disgraceful year by an agency that also gutted rules to preserve the diversity of news-media voices, made it easier for broadcasters to consolidate and prevented companies from offering a federal discount on broadband service to the poor.
Washington representatives are responding in three ways that deserve support from their constituents.
In Congress, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray are part of an effort to force a Senate vote on whether to override the FCC’s net-neutrality reversal, which took effect on Feb. 22.
They’re part of a coalition of 49 Senators and 149 House members keeping the spotlight on this important issue.
Cantwell said repeal is a longshot, but the effort is important to educate colleagues in Congress and the public “about how devastating this can be to the economy.”
Of particular concern in Washington is the effect on startups with online business models. They need an open, level playing field to compete with incumbents.
The FCC’s decision is also being challenged in court by Washington and 21 other states. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in January joined the process by petitioning the FCC to change its position.
In the meantime, Washingtonians should benefit from special net-neutrality protections in a bill introduced by state Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island. Substitute House Bill 2282 was approved by a wide margin in the Legislature. Gov. Jay Inslee is supportive and is expected to sign it into law shortly.
The bill prohibits internet providers in Washington from blocking content, services and devices, with a few exceptions. It also prohibits them from throttling traffic on the basis of content and from prioritizing traffic.
Providers are also required to disclose information about their performance and network management practices.
States’ ability to regulate broadband companies is generally pre-empted by federal rules.
But Hansen believes that the FCC relinquished its authority over net neutrality rules by rescinding them nationally. Washington also has authority to protect residents under its Consumer Protection Act.
“That is a very concrete way that people can show the FCC that we truly believe in a free and open internet,” Hansen said.
Indeed we do. Keep up this important fight.