A group of historians recently filed an amici curiae brief requesting that any and every settlement in the numerous opioid-related lawsuits circulating in national courts commit all related documents and materials to the creation of a public opioid-industry archive. The public nature of such an archive, the brief argued, would begin to remedy the opioid crisis by fostering transparency about its origins.
The University of California San Francisco manages the archive generated from the 1998 tobacco industry settlement, after which last month’s brief is modeled. At the forefront of this push is “the public’s right to know.” The tobacco settlement archive is available online, with new documents digitized and published all the time. Funding for its upkeep also came out of the settlements.
The historians behind the amici curiae understand the integral role archives play in accountability. “Since secrecy fueled the crisis,” they write,
“no just and genuinely remedial settlement can be reached unless it honors the public’s right to know and secures the conditions for its effective exercise into the future.”
In the case of the tobacco industry settlements, the archives includes such documents as industry-funded “scientific research” that “proved” cigarettes’ safety, or even health benefits, and the advertising strategies that deliberately targeted young people. One hopes that a similar opioid industry settlement might publicize the advertising strategies that targeted medical providers and offered kickbacks and incentives to providers who prescribed opioids, even if they didn’t need to. Accountability and transparency, facilitated and fostered by the archives, are (as the brief asserts) the first steps in addressing the origins of the addiction crisis in which we find ourselves–and perhaps, the first steps in preventing the next one.