File photo of prescription painkillers

By suing nearly two dozen pharmaceutical companies, distributors and pain specialists, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has set the pace for declared and undeclared Democrats hoping to recapture the Office of Governor of Ohio next year.

Now a declared candidate, Whaley’s lawsuit alleges the defendants “caused the opioid crisis that has killed thousands of Ohioans, drained public resources and wasted taxpayer dollars,” according to a report by the Dayton Daily News.

“We believe the drug companies made this mess, and it is time they stop passing the buck to Ohio’s taxpayers and started paying to clean it up,” Whaley said. “The drug companies are profiting, and we are paying for it.”

The lawsuit alleges drug companies and distributors have financially benefited from the state’s worsening opiate epidemic while Ohio’s communities and residents suffered.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who has not formally declared his candidacy for governor but is expected to, filed his own lawsuit one week ago, but it only names five pharmaceutical companies that marketed addictive prescription pain medication instead of the broader dragnet cast by Whaley.

Gov. John Kasich has featured the state’s nation-leading crisis on his national TV appearances and on jaunts to sell his new book based on his losing campaign for president last year. While Kasich has delivered a book full of words, he’s fallen short in delivering actual funding needed to tackle the growing problem. State leaders, especially Democratic state leaders, have badgered Kasich to release funds he’s sequestered in the state’s emergency fund, a request that has fallen on deaf ears to date.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor also doesn’t have a detailed plan on how a Taylor administration would fight the opioid crisis. Kasich and Taylor agree with U. S. Sen. Rob Portman that on-going public information campaigns that educate and inform, especially on prevention, is the preferred path.

But Kasich and Portman have defended the beneficial impact of expanded Medicaid to respond to those in personal crisis. Portman talked in strong tones about battling the opioid epidemic last year when he won a second term in Washington, but then he voted against a bill that included funding for that battle, switching his North Star to reducing budget deficits from federal spending.

Dayton became the first Ohio city to file a class-action lawsuit against 22 drug companies responsible for pushing opioids across the state.

“These companies made billions while leaving communities like Dayton to deal with the devastating consequences. They need to pay — by funding the programs our city has had to create and expand to cope with the addiction crisis. Taxpayers don’t deserve to foot the bill for their recklessness,” Whaley told supporters via email.

Former Ohio AG Marc Dann Weighs-In

While it hasn’t received any play in the mainstream media, former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann and close friend and political ally Leo Jennings III are comparing the motivations of players behind the opioid crisis with the motivations of players behind the subprime mortgage crisis that sent America’s economy into a tailspin in 2008 that some states, including Ohio, have struggled to overcome.

“As with predatory mortgage lending, the ongoing opioid and heroin abuse epidemic began quietly and went undetected by regulators and law enforcement officials until evidence of the carnage it was causing began piling up at their feet,” Dann and Jennings wrote in Working Class Perspectives [WCP], an online blog that offers weekly commentaries on current issues related to working-class people and communities.

Dann, who was elected attorney general in 2006 when Democrats swept all but one statewide office sees striking similarities between the housing and opioid scams.

“Like the bankers who created the mortgage crisis by marketing unsustainable investment tools that exploited homebuyers, the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids engaged in a concerted and highly successful effort to convince physicians and pharmacists to hand out dangerous and highly addictive drugs, including OxyContin and Vicodin, as if they were jelly beans,” he wrote recently in WCP.

Whaley’s concern is that Ohio’s nation-leading problem combating the scourge of legal drugs used off label isn’t an industry fluke. Nearly 80 percent of opioid users began with prescription painkillers, she said, noting that many graduated to heroin and Fentanyl to satisfy their addiction.

“The heroin epidemic is no accident, it did not just happen,” she said. “It started with the drug companies.”

For Dann, who was forced to resign when scandals in his short-lived administration that involved his communication’s director Jennings erupted, the legal argument going forward is straightforward:

“The theory of the case is obvious: drug companies, led by Purdue, systematically and intentionally used fraud and deception to convince doctors, third party payers including the state’s Medicaid program and Worker’s Compensation System, and patients that opioids were safe and effective. As a result, patients became addicted to opioid medications that contain the same active ingredient as heroin, which put their lives in danger.”

DDN reported that Montgomery County flew past the record 349 accidental overdose deaths reported in 2016, even though more than half the year remains. Dayton police, fire and EMS personnel so far this year, DDN said, “have responded to more than 1,800 calls for service related to suspected drug overdoses, which is on track to double last year’s total, said police Chief Richard Biehl.”

Dann, who leads the Dann Law Firm that specializes in protecting consumers from various forms of predatory financing, wants U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to surprise everyone by deciding to criminally prosecute the pharmaceutical executives who created the opioid crisis.

“If he does, a clear and for once positive distinction will be drawn between the Trump and Obama administrations. But if he doesn’t, if he instead prosecutes the men and women in blue jeans and plaid shirts who are buying and dealing heroin rather than the bespoke suit-clad executives who set them up to become drug addicts, the Trump administration will be repeating the mistake made by Obama’s with one stark distinction: they’ll be letting murderers off the hook,” he writes with co-author Jennings.