Pharmaceutical companies and their executives should be held legally responsible for their role in perpetuating the opioid crisis, including facing possible prison time, Beto O’Rourke said Tuesday.
Speaking at a CNN town hall, the 2020 presidential contender specifically called out Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma, saying the company marketed the painkiller as a “miracle cure” without adequately warning of its dangers.
“It is pretty clear that Purdue Pharma was marketing opioids to prescribers and to doctors as a miracle cure without side effects and playing down any consequences of addiction — though they knew something to the contrary,” O’Rourke said.
“You see the rates of addiction that you have across this country … if there is no justice served in this case then it will continue to happen,” the former Texas congressman continued, adding that he supported the many state attorneys-general who have sued Purdue over the opioid epidemic.
“There has to be legal consequences ― including jail time ― if that’s what the judge finds at the end of the day,” he concluded.
People addicted to opioids should not be treated as a “criminal justice problem,” O’Rourke said, but rather provided with the long-term recovery help they need.
Speaking more broadly about drug policy reform, O’Rourke said the war on drugs in America had become “a war on people, some people more than others.” He called for the federal decriminalization of marijuana and the expunging of records for those arrested solely for possession of the drug. He also reiterated his support for the elimination of for-profit prisons and ending the practice of cash bail.
“We are busting people for possession of marijuana. Putting them in jail, forcing them to check a box on every employment application after their release,” he said. “And yet no one from Purdue Pharma has spent a night in jail or paid any significance consequence. We gotta do better.”
Other Democratic presidential hopefuls, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have been vocal in their condemnation of Big Pharma and its role in the opioid crisis.
Earlier this month, Warren said she would donate the campaign contributions she received from the Sackler family, who owns Purdue, to charity. She also called on Harvard University, located in her home state, to remove the Sackler name from its buildings.
In March, Gillibrand said she believed drug manufacturers like Purdue “should be prosecuted” for looking at “drugs as a way to make billions of dollars and making sure the dosage was higher so it was more addictive.”
At Tuesday’s televised town hall, the first of O’Rourke’s campaign, he addressed a variety of other issues, including his $5 trillion climate change plan, his pledge to protect Roe v. Wade and his vision to find a path to citizenship for every DREAMer. He also called for the start of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, saying Democrats need to ”look beyond politics, polling and the next election” to protect the future of democracy.