Judge should release data on opioids

West Virginia is ground zero for the drug abuse epidemic, with an overdose death rate far beyond any other state. No. 3 in the nation is Ohio, however (New Hampshire is second), and Buckeye State residents deserve to know how the situation got so dire.

A recent study restricted to deaths from opioid overdoses showed the annual rate in Ohio is about 33.6 per 100,000 residents. That is far behind the leaders (West Virginia at 45.2 and New Hampshire at 36.3), but it still represents a crisis.

Ohioans ought to be given access to the same type of information West Virginians have about that. In the Mountain State, they know pharmaceuticals companies shipped enormous amounts of opioid painkillers into small communities. Tiny Kermit, W.Va., with fewer than 400 residents, had one pharmacy to which 9 million painkiller pills were sent during a two-year period.

Are there similar horror stories in Ohio? Drug companies know. The federal government knows. The people do not — and, incredible as it may seem, some in Washington want to keep it that way.

A major lawsuit brought by lawyers for hundreds of local governments is making its way through a federal court in Cleveland. Defendants are the pharmaceutical companies that for years profited handsomely from the painkiller trade.

Federal officials have agreed to provide information on shipments of opioid painkillers to Ohio. But part of the agreement is that only plaintiffs in the case are allowed to see the data.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Poster is being asked to make the information public. His decision may come during the next few weeks.

Drug companies certainly are entitled to some confidentiality regarding information that could hurt their business and/or aid competitors. But the drug abuse crisis — which kills more Americans every year than the total of U.S. military personnel who died in the Vietnam War — is different.

Poster should let the information go forth. Allowing it to be kept private solely to conceal the rapacity with which some drug companies viewed the opioid crisis should be viewed as unacceptable.