Illinois stands to receive $19.8 million, its piece of a $573 million payout meant to “right the wrong” for Illinois families who lost loved ones to opioid addiction. But there are significant problems with this settlement. First, it represents a mere 6% of McKinsey’s earnings in a typical year — a punishment that hardly fits
Illinois stands to receive $19.8 million, its piece of a $573 million payout meant to “right the wrong” for Illinois families who lost loved ones to opioid addiction. But there are significant problems with this settlement.
First, it represents a mere 6% of McKinsey’s earnings in a typical year — a punishment that hardly fits the misdeed, considering the damage caused to families and communities. And second, it falls sorely short of what’s needed to make meaningful change for those who currently (or may someday) struggle with opioid use disorder (OUD) in Illinois.
America’s opioid epidemic wasn’t an accident. Since the early 2000s, according to court documents, McKinsey guided and executed deceptive marketing strategies for Purdue Pharma that targeted — and rewarded — physicians for overprescribing dangerous opioids, even at the height of the epidemic.
When people caught on to the dangers of opioids, McKinsey successfully launched a campaign to “turbocharge” sales, evade FDA regulations and incentivize distributors. And it worked. Profits tripled while individuals, families and communities suffered. Then, when the company’s behavior came into question, its executives allegedly discussed destroying evidence.
McKinsey has admitted no wrongdoing and is walking away with a financial slap on the wrist while continuing to profit off treatment centers in which it has indirect stakes through its hedge funds.
This settlement is unacceptable given the consequences of addiction. Between 2013 and 2016, overdose deaths in Illinois linked to synthetic opioids increased tenfold, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Nationally, opioid-related deaths have quadrupled since 1999 and drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under 50 years of age. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the crisis, with communities across the nation reporting increased opioid and other drug-related overdoses, according to the American Medical Association. And these statistics don’t consider the growing number of Illinoisans who suffer silently or those who will become addicted to opioids by way of a routine surgery or other medical event in the future.
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A more appropriate settlement would have called for an admission of wrongdoing and a public apology to the families who lost loved ones. It would have included criminal charges with reasonable and required divestment from holdings related to or profiting from drug treatment or rehabilitation efforts. It would have involved the resignation of executives and board members with knowledge of the questionable activity. In short, it would have addressed the underlying systems that perpetuated the profit-over-people culture, ensuring it could never again emerge.
Despite the mediocre settlement, however, our lawmakers’ hands are not tied. Our federal, state and local officials should demand a full review of active contracts with McKinsey at all levels of government, including in Illinois, to make sure no taxpayer money ever again supports this company.
Some efforts are starting. This month, U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to open an investigation into McKinsey’s role in the opioid epidemic
But our state officials also should pursue additional punishment. In fact, in February State’s Attorney Tom Haine of Madison County in Illinois was one of the first in the nation to file a stand-alone lawsuit against McKinsey seeking additional compensation.
While more settlement dollars won’t bring back our loved ones, they can help Illinois crawl out of this crisis by funding critical education, harm reduction, emergency response and treatment efforts that will keep our friends and family alive.
Imagine an Illinois where every high-dose opioid prescription came with a flyer filled with resources to understand and prevent addiction. Or legislation mandating fentanyl test strips and naloxone be available in every community as a means of reducing harmful outcomes. What about fully funded rehabilitation and treatment facilities in low-income communities hardest hit by the epidemic, where individuals without private insurance can access recovery services typically reserved for wealthier areas. And, of course, sober homes for unsheltered individuals and prior offenders who, when released from the criminal justice system, often have nowhere to go.
I strongly urge Illinois lawmakers to remember the silent crisis facing Illinoisans, to take an aggressive and unwavering stand against companies that methodically and callously create an environment where addiction thrives, and to support policies and funding that give Illinois communities the resources they need to support their most vulnerable.
Aaron Weiner, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and addiction specialist. He is the founder of Bridge Forward Group in Lake Forest, where he helps individuals and families navigate and overcome addiction.
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