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.
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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