Around six hundred Native American tribes and counties are filing a federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma LP. The litigations accuse Purdue of creating an opioid crisis in their communities through the deceptive marketing of chemically similar OxyContin. The lawsuit seeks to eventually correct the deceptive advertising. This brings into question some fundamental premises and questions regarding businesses in our society. To what degree should we hold businesses accountable for their products, if we do at all? Should Purdue fix their advertising and compensate Native American tribes for allegedly creating an opioid crisis in their communities?
Responsibility for a product should be carefully placed, and this can be defined through a variety of circumstances after a product is purchased. Let us start at the extremities and work our way inward towards reason. The first extremity to address is a circumstance where businesses should take responsibility for their products. Ideologically, this might be when something about the basic assembly of the product causes an inconsistency with what the product is supposed to do. Recalls are a great example of this, and they happen with cars, toys, makeup, etc. The recalls occur because something about the assembly of the product renders it dangerous or inoperable. As a society, we have deemed this reasonable to place at the feet of businesses, allowing people to essentially say, “you take responsibility for this.”
The alternate side is to address the degree to which we as civilians take responsibility for our use of a particular product. It is beneficial that we take responsibility when our actions create a dangerous or harmful situation by using a product, rather than the actions of the corporation. This is an incredibly circumstantial parametrization to set, and is fundamentally what the judicial system is for. In any case, this is why hazards are put on particular toys that warn against choking. It is partly to cover the asses of businesses, but partly because a choking hazard is not enough to take products off the market. Even reasonable children know not to put small things in their mouths because they might choke, so, businesses warn us with labels to watch children to ensure they do not choke. The warning hazard is meant to shift responsibility from business to consumer. This, to some degree, needs to happen; it is unreasonable for a business to assume responsibility of every accident that ever occurs involving their product. It robs the incentive to ever invent anything, because now you have to make sure nothing bad could ever be done with it, which is nearly impossible. This is why tobacco products have Surgeon General warnings. Of course they are small, but everyone knows they are there and intended to shift responsibility of use of the product from business to consumer, and this is necessary.
One should think between these two premises: where does your opinion lie? It is important that we all formulate and consider these things carefully. Fundamentally, it is a simple battle of “Whose fault is it?” with no one wanting to take responsibility. So our job as reasonable thinkers is to moderate and say, “this is what responsibility businesses should take for reason X, and this is what responsibility civilians should take for reason Y.”
Regarding the situation with the Native Americans, I tend to lean towards the ideology that drug use is in our hands as individuals, excluding particular factors. It seems to me that if the doctor recommends a particular dosage and that particular dosage leads to heavy withdraws from patients, then that is an issue, but more so with the doctor. Responsibility in legal drug use is tricky because it shifts from producer to doctor, then to consumer. The extra step of the doctor allows for an additional potential responsibility holder in the transaction. The doctor can take responsibility and rightfully so, given that the patient experiences heavy withdrawal from the suggested dosage- but surely not the business. The issue with putting it at the feet of the business itself is because it is not a business’s fault when a doctor recommends an incorrect or potentially dangerous dosage of their product, or if an individual abuses the product. If this were the case, you could presumably sue liquor stores for alcohol addiction or tobacco industries for tobacco addiction. This seems irrational. Individuals need to take responsibility for their choice in abusing drugs. It is a very circumstantial situation to combat in law, but if responsibility is placed where it does not belong, then we risk unforeseeable consequences. Fairness is a fundamental axis of existing, and needs to be balanced to the best our minds can rationalize to.