The logic that a company legally selling a legal product is responsible for the illegal use is spreading.
Hatch seeks meth costs from drug firms
The attorney general wants to collect damages from makers of cold products that are used in the addictive illegal stimulant.
Conrad Defiebre, Star Tribune
Last update: February 18, 2006 – 1:22 AM
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Pharmaceutical companies that make popular cold remedies containing essential ingredients for the illegal stimulant methamphetamine should be forced to pay millions of dollars in costs that the illicit drug inflicts on Minnesota taxpayers, Attorney General Mike Hatch said Friday.
Hatch said he plans to sue giant international drugmakers such as Pfizer and Merck on grounds that they long have known that large quantities of their legal products have been diverted to illegal meth labs, spurring an epidemic of addiction, crime and shattered lives across America.
It is a step likely to stir opposition, especially in an election year when the DFL attorney general is a leading candidate to challenge Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Drugmakers say Hatch's plan would penalize makers of valued medicines for others' misuse of their products.
"I'm sure it's controversial," Hatch said. "But we've got to be serious about this. This industry essentially lied to the American public. They're clearly dumping [meth ingredients] in a way that allows creation of this illegal substance."
The plan drew immediate fire from the drug industry.
"It seems that this solution seeks to punish people who make a legitimate and needed product because other people are misusing it," said Wanda Mobius, spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group in Washington. "We are working with legislators and law enforcement in a number of states to develop processes to ensure that the products are safely delivered and appropriately used."
Hatch noted, however, that the companies "strenuously opposed legislation that would have made their products more difficult to obtain."
Hatch said he will seek enabling legislation to assist the courtroom assault -- including extending the drugmakers' liability six years into the past -- an idea that got a chilly reception from Republican leaders.
Hatch suggested, however, that he could move ahead without legislation, adding that "current law already provides legal theories for recovery of costs caused by meth from the manufacturers and suppliers of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine."
Those ingredients are used in medications such as Pfizer's Sudafed. Minnesota and 33 other states have placed sales restrictions on such remedies to stem their diversion to small meth labs. Authorities say that step put most of the local labs out of business, but it may have cut off no more than 20 percent of Minnesota's meth supply.
The rest is believed to come from meth "superlabs" in Mexico and California that use industrial-sized shipments of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine to make the illegal drug. Nearly all of those supplies originate in nine large factories in the Czech Republic, Germany, India and China that have become a focus of international efforts to restrict their sales to legitimate drugmakers.
An estimated $130 million was spent by state and local governments in Minnesota in 2004 alone to clean up toxic meth labs; to arrest, prosecute, incarcerate and treat meth offenders, and to care for children they neglect and abuse.
Those costs could be recovered from large companies using legal strategies drawn from tobacco industry litigation, environmental cleanup rules and drug-dealer liability laws, Hatch said.
For example, he said, meth-response damages could be assessed to drug companies based on their shares of the decongestant cold-pill market, which has a precedent in landfill-cleanup law. Similarly, the state's $6.1 billion tobacco settlement provided a model of industry paying for misrepresenting the harm caused by its products, Hatch said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, chief sponsor of that legislation, which eventually passed in Minnesota last year, called Hatch's effort commendable but "obviously a long-term approach to the problem."
As for the legislation urged by Hatch -- which, among other things, would preclude drugmakers from arguing that they bear no liability for illegal use of their products -- Rosen said: "I think the legislators would put their attention on things that can be done right away and wouldn't be so controversial. That bill could drag us into a special session."
Both Rosen and Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung also countered Hatch's suggestion that Rosen's legislation represented only "a false victory" in the fight against meth.
"Litigation is going to take five or 10 years," McClung said. "We have to take action now. Law enforcement tells us these new laws are working."
Conrad deFiebre • 651-222-1673
Yeah, as a former MN resident this is not surprising in the least. You should have seen all the assinine lawsuits old huby humperdink er... Hubert H. Humphrey III (snot-nose kid of the former VP) used to file on behalf of the state of MN...
I think one was against a garbage bag manufacturer for false advertising, and I seem to recall him suing a teddy bear manufacturer for something equally stupid.
It sure felt good to know uncle hubert was protecting me so well...
In the end though it was a win-win. He was so horrible that he finally quit running for governor and US Senator after even the worst libtards began laughing at him.
I think he considered the Humphrey name to carry as much political clout as the Kennedy name. Hopefully that will end soon too...
Now I think they have a Mondale brat trying to cash in on the family name...
God it's embarrassing to be from MN sometimes. To an outsider we have to look almost as ridiculous as mass-a-two-shits...