“Opioid epidemic” versus “autism epidemic” – why does the first phrase garner a far more proactive ethical response from media and the public?
U.S. government law firms’ legal actions against opioid manufacturers have been embraced by news networks like CBS, ABC and more, as over 40 states, 1,500 counties and cities seek to recoup costs of drug abuse.
“Ohio is losing $4 [billion] to $5 billion a year from the opioid epidemic, and they’re losing 5,000 or 6,000 people a year from overdose deaths,” said Florida attorney Mike Moore to CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes. A jury award, he said, could reach $100 billion or beyond.
Meanwhile, autism is affecting up to 1 in 36 American children and the epidemic could cost the U.S. up to $1 trillion by 2025. As for global costs of autism, WHO’s counting – not working to slow growth, but conceivably helping increase autism rates.
As with vaccine adverse reactions, the epidemic means little until it affects one personally. In 2010, Moore’s nephew overdosed on generic fentanyl. “We have 72,000 people dying every year; let’s figure out a way to resolve this thing,” Moore said. “You guys [manufacturers] made billions of dollars off this thing. Take some of that money and apply it to the problem that you helped cause.”
Moore earned recognition after his successful 1994-1998 case against Big Tobacco, taking on their 68 lawyers to win $250 billion for state governments. (Back then he’d also been interviewed by 60 Minutes, for a segment to feature tobacco company whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand – but CBS corporate lawyers shut down its broadcast initially.)
Decades ago the Minnesota firm of Robins, Miller, Kaplan and Ciresi won $6.5 billion to cover state healthcare costs and fund anti-smoking initiatives. RKMC provided more than 30 million pages of tobacco industry documents: “The industry did know everything we were saying they knew, and they knew it back in the 50s and 60s," attorney Mike Ciresi said.
Contrast the Big Tobacco trials and the opioid suits with the mishandling of the Omnibus Autism Proceeding and the failed Vaccine Court. Regarding vaccine-induced autism, justice is not blind – and public perception is skewed. Replace the word “opioids” with “cigarettes” or “vaccines” and consider the cognitive dissonances.
All three consumer products can cause health damage and/or create toxic body burdens of non-nutritive substances.
- OxyContin has never been studied in animals for carcinogenic potential, and it has mutagenic properties; some users become addicted, but not all.
- Cigarettes cause cancer and cardiovascular disease in some smokers, but (arguably) not all. Cigarettes contain up to 600 ingredients, including tar.
- Vaccines cause serious adverse reactions in some people, but (arguably) not all. Vaccines may contain teratogens and mutagens such as mercury and aluminum, and autoimmune-inducing peptides and nucleoproteins.
Consumers’ personal choice whether to consume these products varies:
- Individuals choose to ingest opioids such as Percoset or OxyContin. However the alternative to opioid consumption is feeling pain, severe enough to warrant a prescription.
- Individuals choose to inhale nicotine from cigarettes or vaping, except for second-hand smoke from family members and acquaintances.
- Individuals might choose to be injected with vaccines, or are coerced via social pressure and government mandates.
Cigarettes, opioids and vaccines are all profit-focused products for internal use, but vaccines are psychologically entwined with government public health PR about social responsibility, and industry advertising that manipulates’ individuals’ fear of disease. Currently consumers are hesitant to believe that the same government agencies and pharmaceutical companies who mismanaged safety monitoring of drugs like the devascularizing Vioxx could also be mismanaging vaccine safety.
Proving that vaccines cause autism amounts to asking the U.S. government to prosecute itself. Which is problematic and not particularly promising, because:
- The Department of Justice is likely guilty of obstruction of justice regarding vaccine/autism science.
- U.S. government agencies share revolving doors with many industries.
Autism’s myriad costs to families and society were negligible until the 1980s, when autism rates began to rise sharply. Taxpayers in every state found themselves burdened with skyrocketing budgets for autism services. In Minnesota, its Department of Human Services reported autism expenses tripled in 1995-2005, from $37,883,928 to $115,432,039.
Add to that special education budgets. Educating a child with a disability costs at least twice that of a neurotypical child; Applied Behavioral Analysis can cost $60,000 a year. Overall, lifetime care for one person with autism could cost $10 million to $17 million, according to New York attorney and autism parent Robert Krakow who testified before a Senate committee hearing.
At the turn of the millennium, scientific evidence began linking the mercury-based vaccine preservative Thimerosal to the budding autism epidemic.
- 1999: U.S. Food and Drug Administration staff tally vaccine mercury injected into infants and children, and discover the total far exceeds guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Said Dr. Neal Halsey, “My honest belief is that if the labels had had the mercury content in micrograms, this would have been uncovered years ago. But the fact is, no one did the calculation.”
- June 7, 2000: Vaccine policymakers talked at the infamous Simpsonwood meeting about Thimerosal: “[T]he number of dose related relationships [between mercury and autism] are linear and statistically significant,” said Dr. William Weil of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- July 18, 2000: U.S. Rep. Dan Burton holds a hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, entitled “Mercury in Medicine – Are We Taking Unnecessary Risks?”.
During 2003-2004 parents from about a dozen states asked their Attorneys General to sue vaccine manufacturers, to recoup the costs of autism. The emphasis then was Thimerosal. Investigative journalist David Kirby described a few state A.G. lawsuit initiatives in his 2005 book Evidence of Harm. Progress in North Carolina and New York looked promising; so did Minnesota with its temperamental Attorney General, Mike Hatch. Kirby wrote, “In June of 2004, Hatch began interviewing law firms to represent the state for possible action against Eli Lilly and the vaccine manufacturers.”
[Author’s note: In 2004 Kirby interviewed me about my efforts to convince Hatch to file a lawsuit against Thimerosal manufacturers.]
Law builds on precedent – and so does trust in results. Some parents in the A.G. lawsuit group actively sought out attorneys who’d worked on the Big Tobacco settlement. A large, wealthy law firm would have the financial resources necessary to hire experts to testify, hire laboratories for testing, wait out the FOIA process to access government files, or possibly find a way to get unredacted copies. And, hopefully, obtain incriminating documents from industry.
Ethical questions abounded. Not all beneficiaries of the tobacco verdict were happy with it. Some objected to the financial motivation of so-called “trial lawyers”; the Cato Institute stated that attorneys on the Big Tobacco case had earned $7,716 an hour.
Some autism advocates affiliated otherwise with the ad hoc A.G. group spoke against big state lawsuits, worried that windfall settlements from pharmaceutical companies might come at the expense of people whose life depended on a steady supply of a particular medication. But ultimately money speaks a language business and government understand.
In New York, connecting with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was key. Minnesota’s Mike Hatch said he would move forward with the Thimerosal lawsuit if New York partnered with him. Psychologist and autism parent Sarah Bridges, Ph.D. detailed those and other A.G. initiatives in her SEED magazine article “Rise Against Mercury.”
In North Carolina, autism parents were meeting with their governor and then-Presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards, a trial lawyer, who told advocates this:
“As long as I am in public life, I will work to make sure that every American has a fair day in court.”
Sadly for future victims of adverse reactions, the state vaccine lawsuits did not go forward. As for these would-be white knights:
- Mike Hatch left public office and until recently worked at a law firm that defended large companies against toxic torts (e.g. Thimerosal lawsuits).
- In 2014 RKMC was “one step closer to shining a light on Merck's deceptive business” regarding the mumps vaccine whistleblower case. Since then Mike Ciresi left to form a new law firm.
- Eliot Spitzer lost his governorship over his involvement with prostitutes (he was “Client Nine”).
- John Edwards lost his Presidential bid; while his wife slowly died of cancer, he produced a child with another woman.
Thus is the pathology of power. Due to government obfuscation and inaction, autism rates increased drastically: from 1 in 166 to 1 in 36, and show no sign of stopping. Worse, half of all U.S. children now suffer some kind of chronic illness.
Perversely the CDC is using opioids as yet another taxpayer-funded diversion from its own history of data fraud and malfeasance in collusion with similarly corrupt agencies internationally. A January 2019 study “found that mothers who were prescribed opioids just before becoming pregnant were more likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or a child with other developmental disabilities (DDs) and some autism symptoms.” (No mention whether the pain meds were to treat autoimmune disorders that would preclude vaccination.)
Mass death gets people’s attention. Each day in the U.S. 130 people die of an opioid overdose (including heroin and fentanyl), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The organization estimates economic burden at $78.5 billion a year for “costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.” As with autism, though, the intangible costs to addicts, family and community are harder to calculate or compensate.
What’s important to both autism and addition? Treatment – medical and psychological – which can prove quite expensive and elusive. Said Moore: “Success for me would be that we would find funding to provide treatment for all the 2.5 million opioid-dependent people in this country.”
Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia are among among states that have already settled with OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma. A 2001 personal email from former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler referred to opioid abusers as "victimizers" and "criminals," and expressed prescient but passive concern that blame would be directed at manufacturers. New York’s Attorney General has also filed fraud charges against Purdue and its owners, saying, "As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers' health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill."
Meanwhile in a parallel black hat narrative, parents entrust their children’s health daily to vaccine policymakers willing to use babies and toddlers as human shields to avoid honestly researching excipient toxicities:
“[T]he issue is that it is impossible, unethical to leave kids unimmunized, so you will never, ever resolve that issue [regarding the impact of mercury],” stated Dr. Robert Chen, CDC Chief of Vaccine Safety and Development.
Some states are not just suing opiod manufacturers; they’re also going after companies with “deeper pockets” such as $208 billion medical giant McKesson. Attorney Moore argues that McKesson and other distributors failed to obey the Controlled Substance Act, a 1970 law requiring “manufacturers and distributors to report their controlled substances transactions to the Attorney General” via the Drug Enforcement Administration and its Arcos database.
Conversely with vaccines, product tracking has deliberately been obfuscated (after the “Tennessee cluster”). The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) is either a “wonder” (pun intended) or a washout, depending on the user’s intentions for the data gathered there. The CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink is proprietary to government, except in instances when Congress ordered access be given to three independent researchers… to which staff complied, with strict limitations.
Rescinding the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 could make pharmaceutical companies financially liable again for vaccine injuries, instead of relying on vaccine taxes to fund the small percentage of claimants who make it through Vaccine Court after five to ten years. Proponents of NCVIA say without it, companies would have no financial incentives to make vaccines – that giving victims real trials before judge and jury, with discovery, would bankrupt manufacturers. (And that inadvertent admission of vaccines’ fallibility supports causality assertions by injury claimants.)
Has Pharma become too big to fail? Globally last year pharmaceuticals did $1.2 trillion in sales, says the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. Half was in North America, which buys two-thirds of all new medicines. Sales of drugs and biologics are forecasted to continue growing, as health care consumers maintain their reliance on them.
Can taxpayers be sure that opioid settlement money will be used for its intended purpose – to help victims? No, if past history is a guide. Of Minnesota’s $6.5 billion, $469 million went to an insurance company. “Gov. [Tim] Pawlenty raided it for about a billion dollars when we had the deficit," said attorney Ciresi. "And then Gov. Dayton raided it to float the bonds.”
Unexpected benefits evolved from the cigarette suit, depending on your viewpoint: tobacco company donations to politicians are down. And the tortuous legal process catalyzed further product safety research. Attorney Ciresi claimed RKMC’s win against Big Tobacco “led to over 400 peer-reviewed medical articles.”
Excess has been the American way for years, to the detriment of our health. Too much food and alcohol. Too many cigarettes and pills. Yes, too many vaccines. Too much manipulation from media, shifting too much money into corporations without consciences.
History has repeatedly shown that people in power will lie to protect professional and financial interests, at the expense of the public. When corporations and agencies sidestep regulatory checks and balances with evasion and fabrication, the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
The challenge for participants in a democratic society is recognizing public health problems long before they reach a tipping point toward the irreparable, and inspiring enough people to speak out. The alternative is watching the nation’s health continue to decline, in inverse proportion to pharmaceutical companies’ wealth.