A s courge of drugs have ruined families and communities across the nation, but the source of the substances isn’t cartels operating south of the border. In fact, the drugs aren’t even illegal.

Opioids emerged from seemingly nowhere. Once considered obvious solutions to prolonged issues of pain, the drugs have been found to have addictive properties that draw in users with sometimes traumatizing results.

Thriving communities wrecked, loved ones in early graves — the damages of opioids pushed into vulnerable communities don’t fit nicely on a spreadsheet.

What recent events highlight is the severe depth to which opioids have become an issue for the country in terms of both substance abuse and legal definition, and that second point appears to be the kicker.

The recent decision by Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman in Oklahoma put Johnson & Johnson on the hook for $572 million in damages to the state. States and municipalities have attempted to lodge cases against opioid producers for several years after communities were overrun with the drugs, but the legal grounds of such cases have remained unclear until now.

Oklahoma originally sought $17.5 billion over 30 years, according to The Washington Post, but the judge in the case only penalized the company a little over half a million dollars, saying the state had supplied insufficient evidence beyond a year of recovery.

While the number left some questioning what appeared to be only a slap on the wrist for a company that reported $81.6 billion in sales in 2018, the plaintiffs in the case considered the ruling a model for other communities.

The judge’s decision was based on the opioid crisis being a public nuisance, and that’s where it becomes unclear. Unless pills are being sold illegally, no law has been broken.

Meanwhile, opioid giant Purdue Pharma is in negotiations to settle lawsuits across the country for the damages wrought by the drug crisis. The company finds itself the target of more than 2,000 lawsuits and might be forced to end its part in the opioid business due to aggressive marketing tactics, according to The New York Times. The company sold OxyContin around the world, and the drug has been the target by many for damages caused in communities.

The drugs, though, were not pushed by a shady man on the street. They came from legal pathways that were not carefully watched until it was too late.

But sometimes the case for abuse is clear.

Just last week, medical providers, clinic owners and managers, pharmacists and pharmacy owners and managers, as well as drug dealers and traffickers, were charged in a massive trafficking investigation across the Houston area, including Brazoria County areas, The Facts previously reported. Freeport Pharmacy was involved in the network that resulted in charges against 41 people, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The Southeast Texas network included one pharmacy that dispensed the second-most number of oxycodone 30mg pills in the state and the ninth-most in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lax regulation combined with prioritizing profits are what allowed the horrific addictions to spread in major cities and small towns across the country. The apparent success of these recent cases highlights there has been some wrongdoing in how these drugs were marketed to doctors and users, and blame does not solely fall on the person who ended up addicted to the substances.

Pain relief can serve an important purpose, but if drugmakers are allowed to market the substances with relaxed oversight, providing incentives to prescribers to dole out the medicines beyond their focused purpose, the cost to the American people will never be covered by the unholy profits reaped.

This editorial was written by Alec Woolsey, assistant managing editor of The Facts.

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