WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will introduce a bill Tuesday that would impose jail time for pharmaceutical executives whose companies engage in manipulative practices when marketing opioids.
The legislation would impose a 10-year minimum prison sentence and fines equal to an executive’s compensation package if the individual’s company is found to have illegally contributed to the opioid crisis. It would also impose an additional fine on those companies of $7.8 billion — one-tenth the annual cost of the crisis, per a 2016 estimate.
The bill outlined a number of mechanisms by which the Department of Health and Human Services could demonstrate such liability, including by mandating written justifications for pill orders that seem medically unreasonable. And the legislation would establish an opioid reimbursement fund, to be administered by HHS, that would collect the fines levied under the new law and distribute them to other federal departments.
The bill would also prohibit companies from direct marketing of opioid products without adequate warning of their addictive properties and establish a reimbursement fund that would collect revenues from the penalties imposed.
In many cases, the bill’s proposals take aim at the most-cited perceived misdeeds of opioid makers and distributors.
Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the opioid painkiller OxyContin, announced in February it would no longer directly market the drug to doctors, a major shift for the company that has shouldered an increasing share of the blame for the national crisis.
McKesson, a drug distributor, is said to have shipped 5 million opioid pills to a West Virginia town with 400 residents over a two-year span.
Those two companies are among a larger group of manufacturers and distributors being sued in a consolidated case in an Ohio federal court. The Department of Justice said earlier this month it planned to file an amicus brief in the case.
Sanders’ new effort is the latest in a spate of opioids-related bills, but takes aim at pharmaceutical companies more explicitly than others. Some version of an opioids-related bill is seen as the last major legislation likely to be pursued on Capitol Hill prior to midterm elections in November.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he hopes to bring a legislative package to a vote by Memorial Day.