By Jon Delano

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Opioids and tobacco do share some things in common.

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“Relaxation, pleasurable feelings, stress reductions, all of those things,” said Dr. Jamie McConaha of the Duquesne University School of Pharmacy.

But could local lawsuits against pharmaceuticals lead to a national out-of-court settlement like big tobacco got twenty years ago?


But unlike tobacco with no health benefit, opioids can be useful as pain-killers, McConaha told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Monday.

“When they are used in the appropriate course of action, when they are prescribed by an appropriate provider for the correct indication, I think they have a place in therapy,” she said. “But the problem is when people begin to abuse these medications or become addicted to them.”

McConaha says it took decades of anti-smoking evidence to convince big tobacco to buy into a master settlement agreement.


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“We know a lot more about the long-standing health effects of tobacco than we do of opioids,” she said. “Obviously there is a growing epidemic with opioids. We’ve seen a lot of the devastating consequences of addiction, but I don’t think we have quite as many years of research.”

But if the tobacco model is followed, it could result in better education campaigns to discourage opioid use.

One result of the tobacco settlement was an anti-smoking campaign to reduce the number of smokers paid for by the tobacco industry.

It’s not clear that that would happen with opioids and the pharmaceutical industry.

Would big pharma agree to discourage use of a medically valuable drug?

Science may solve the problem by developing less addictive pain-killers.

But anti-smoking advocates warn that pharma, like tobacco, can find ways around any agreement.

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“They still have advertising ads you’ll see in magazines,” says Brittany Huffman with Tobacco Free Allegheny. “They’re still sponsoring different sporting events, other concert series that are going on, and they’re still promoting in stores.”