I’ve known many people with substance abuse problems. I grew up around them, dated one, and have represented others. It touches every facet of society, every demographic, and has the same impact on a privileged honor student from the Main Line as it does on a child raised by a single mother in West Philadelphia.

So whenever I see any policies that would hold those who make opioids and other addictive narcotics available to the vulnerable, I’m in favor of them. Unlike the poorly thought-out and toxic proposals for “safe injection sites” and needle exchanges — policies that would attack the problem after the fact and essentially condone drug use — Philadelphia City Council was once presented with legislation that would have gone to the source of the problem: pharmaceutical companies and their profit margins. 

As reported by Joseph DiStefano in an article from February 2019, Ordinance 18088 would have forced pharmaceutical sales representatives to register with the city and track their gifts to doctors. The ordinance was backed by city health officials, and anti-drug activists.

READ MORE — Christine Flowers: Sympathy for the Devil

Surprisingly, a politically diverse group of council members voted against the proposal, including mayoral hopefuls Helen Gym, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, and Alan Domb. It’s uncertain why most of them voted against what seems to be a legitimate and common sense policy that would hold the source of these opioids accountable for their actions. However, it’s interesting to note that one of the opponents, Helen Gym, is married to an attorney who works for one of the pharmaceutical companies that would have been impacted by the ordinance. Gym’s husband, Bret Flaherty, works for AmerisourceBergen.

AmerisourceBergen, located in Conshohocken, is one of the largest American drug distributors according to DiStefano, and has faced a slew of lawsuits for its role in the painkiller epidemic. As a defense, the company blames the same doctors with whom it deals — and who ostensibly receive gifts and perks from its representatives — of over-prescribing opioids.

This week, federal prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company, alleging that it placed profits over public safety and pumped an unacceptable number of drugs into the communities impacted by the opioid crisis, a number that was disproportionate to the population.

The lawsuit also charged that AmerisourceBergen turned a blind eye to the possibility that some of its clients, namely pharmacies, were diverting opioids to the black market.

According to a report from 6abc.com, the complaint alleged that the company failed to report the possibility that the drugs were being diverted, even in the face of evidence that this was occurring on an increasing basis.

That’s a common principle in American law: if you turn a blind eye to misconduct and criminal activity, and you have a duty to be on the lookout for that activity, you can be held responsible for any foreseeable harm attributable to your negligence.

This week, the Department of Justice issued a press release which stated: “We allege that AmerisourceBergen, a wholesale drug distributor, flagrantly and repeatedly violated its obligation to notify DEA of suspicious orders for controlled substances, which directly contributed to the epidemic of prescription opioid abuse across the United States.”

These are simply allegations, and it remains to be seen whether the defendant can be held liable for the misconduct of third parties. But that’s a common principle in American law: if you turn a blind eye to misconduct and criminal activity, and you have a duty to be on the lookout for that activity, you can be held responsible for any foreseeable harm attributable to your negligence. In other words, if you violate your fiduciary duty to society, society has a right to hold you accountable.

Coming full circle, while it may not be relevant that former councilwoman and current mayoral candidate Helen Gym is married to an attorney who works for a company charged with doing significant damage to the vulnerable in Philadelphia, it would be helpful to have her explain why she voted against an ordinance which would have made it more difficult for pharmaceutical companies like her husband’s employer to engage in exactly the misconduct charged by the U.S. Attorney.

Hopefully, she’ll address this on the campaign stump, especially if it takes her through the streets of Kensington.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61

13 thoughts on “Christine Flowers: Big Pharma’s opioid problem — and their friends on City Council”

  1. Helen Gym is “married to someone who works for someone who might be impacted”.
    Let me introduce you to the entire Republican party, the NRA, school shootings and all the senseless gun violence in this country. The NRA (funded by gun manufacturers) pay Republican legislators to pass laws helping/shielding gun manufacturers, and anyone associated with guns, from facing any liability from the catastrophic death and destruction this industry has caused Americans. Pat Toomey was paid $1,475,448 by the NRA in exchange for his votes and not one column of complaint from Christine Flowers. Not even a tweet. Unless Helen Gym, herself, is paid directly by big pharma in exchange for her vote to protect them from liability you’ve got nothing on her. My guess is that Helen Gym is such a vocal and compassionate advocate for immigrants and refugees. Christine Flowers, a huge Trump supporter, doesn’t go for that.

      1. So, Flowers makes her living off of them. However, her support for Donald Trump proves she votes against refugees and immigrants. Helen Gym is a very vocal and strong supporter of refugees and immigrants. And please, no need to name call.

    1. Cameron,
      In 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292) while 43% were murders (19,384), according to the CDC. The remaining gun deaths that year were unintentional (535), involved law enforcement (611) or had undetermined circumstances (400.) There were 42,060 total motor vehicle deaths in 2020 across the United States. Why didn’t you use motor vehicle deaths instead of gun deaths to try and make your point? Is it because you’re being manipulated to support giving up gun ownership rights? I’m afraid you might be getting used to be outraged so you’ll click more buttons which puts more money into Big Tech’s hands. The 2nd amendment isn’t about hunting. The same US government that sneakily censored any dissent towards their Covid policies over the past 3 years would like to take away guns from their citizens more than anyone.

      Havertown, PA

      1. My point was that Republicans take money from the gun industry in exchange for their votes protecting them from liability. Pat Toomey was paid millions in exchange for his votes siding with the gun industry over common sense gun laws. Christine Flowers was totally onboard with that. There’s no evidence Helen Gym took money in exchange for protecting big pharma from liability.

        1. Cameron,
          Thank you for your earlier considerate reply. I agree that Republicans take money in exchange for their votes. It is the very fact that most of our leaders (politicians, educators, and Fortune 1000 executives) are for sale and prone to corrupt acts which is causing many of the problems in The United States of America.
          In 2020 there were 42,060 total motor vehicle deaths across the United States – remember much was locked down and traffic was very light. And in the very same year in 2020, with much unrest and “mostly peaceful protests”, according to the CDC there were 20,930-gun related deaths (not accounting for suicide) – which is less than half of the total motor vehicle deaths. Shouldn’t the auto industry (car dealerships, TV stations that run car ads, etc.) be held in equal liability as the gun industry? I don’t think so myself, but motor vehicles are simply useful and dangerous tools like guns.
          Christine Flowers is pointing out we have a drug epidemic in the United States of America. And sensible solutions are withheld, and as you pointed out about the Republicans because there are examples of corruption and votes for sale all around us. Let’s vote them and their allies out of power. Our children need protection from the drug companies, those politicians and executives in their pockets, and their cozy friends and family.

          Havertown, PA

        2. no there is no evidence SHE took money for her vote; however, the financial well-being of her family is directly impacted vis a vis her husband’s employer, which would have been impacted by this ordinance. It is at best a conflict of interest and she probably should have recused herself from voting on said ordinance as there is arguably the appearance of impropriety.

    2. The major funding sources for the NRA and its related entities are membership dues (50.5%), contributions from individual donors and corporate sponsors (27.7%), unrelated business income, and advertising revenue (7%).The NRA literally exists to represent its paying members (American citizens concerned about Second Amendment rights) who join and pay membership fees or otherwise make donations to it. It represents the political wishes of its members at their behest. It is not federally funded nor funded by dark money.

    3. But the entire Republican party isn’t running for Mayor. But I have faith in Helen Gym….she will fund a way to make herself the victim.

  2. I take the position that a great deal of responsibility lies with those physicians that allow themselves to be swayed by “gifts” from pharmaceutical companies. Reporting gifts is only part of the picture, a link needs to be established by comparing gifts from XYZ pharmaceutical company to prescriptions written by the physician for XYZ’s pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, it is very difficult control opioids in a society that turns to marijuana as a recreational drug, or, like Oregon, decriminalize hard drugs, while giving less than lip service to preventive/rehabilitation programs. I am old enough to remember when obtaining opioids for pain relief was almost impossible, I remember when elderly relatives were dying in great pain and were denied opioid relief because they might “become addicted.” It is easy to blame pharmaceutical companies collectively for the drug problem, especially when there is the possibility of a jackpot like payday at the end of the process, but is it wise?

    1. That’s a fair point George, if we were laying all of the blame on pharmaceutical companies and their drive to increase sales of their product. But we’re not. Doctors, pharmacists, legislators and the patients themselves all bear a role. To exempt the companies that insert their product into the stream of commerce from liability for malfeasance or negligence is as unwise as holding them solely responsible.

      1. Please note that AmerisourceBergen is not a drug manufacturer. It is a drug distributor, a supply chain operator that merely delivers pharma to clinics, pharmacies, hospitals etc. It does not prescribe or dispense. It has a robust order monitoring system in place and had been doing so before its competitors did and works closely with the DEA to cut off customers with unusual ordering patterns or other irregularies. In fact, the DEA itself is the ONLY organization that has a bird’s eye, total 100% view of what ALL distributors are providing from manufacturers in any given place. Why aren’t THEY on the hotseat for not doing more? AmerisourceBergen has no idea what its competitors are delivering anywhere and can only monitor their own customers’ purchases.

  3. I would like to make a few comments on gun manufacturers and others liability. Those who call for liability to accrue to gun manufacturers for their product use by third parties, should consider the ramifications of such a policy. Would the manufacturer have liability for use by a police officer? How about by a soldier? Anyway, why guns only, given the death and maiming numbers from auto and trucks, why shouldn’t the manufacturer of auto and trucks be held liable for use by third party owners and/operators? While we are at it, how about liability for misuse of knives? they have deadly effects also, as do bows and arrows. Keep in mind that as far as public health pharmaceuticals are concerned, government shields them from liability under the theory that such drugs would not be produced if the manufacturer could be held liable for a person’s misadventure with such a drug. In the society we have today, everybody and their dog sues for anything which conceivably has some hope of return. Remember the McDonald’s hot coffee and my favourite: using a rotary lawnmower to trim the tops of hedges.

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