Jacob Sullum

Critics of OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma blame it for promoting abuse of the painkiller by encouraging family doctors to prescribe it. "As a result of the expanded access," said a recent New York Times story, summarizing the rap against the company, "OxyContin wound up in the high schools and street corners of rural America, where curious teenagers crushed the pill, defeating the time-release formula, and ended up addicts or, in some cases, dead."

Miraculous as OxyContin may seem to people suffering from severe chronic pain, it does not have the ability to crush itself and leap up the noses of innocent bystanders. No one "ends up" an addict without repeatedly choosing to seek out and consume a drug for the pleasure or emotional relief it provides. Drug treatment data indicate that regular OxyContin users are typically experienced illicit drug consumers who have undergone treatment before, not "curious teenagers."

Purdue Pharma, which pleaded guilty in May to "misbranding," may have misled doctors by telling them OxyContin was less subject to abuse than other opioids. But depicting OxyContin addicts as innocent victims of corporate greed is equally misleading, ignoring the decisions by which they determined their own fates.

There was no shortage of such responsibility-deflecting narratives in 2007. A few more highlights:

Kentucky Fried Lawsuit. Arthur Hoyte, a retired physician from Rockville, Md., sued KFC after discovering what he portrayed as the fast-food chain's deadly secret: It fried its chicken in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. (It has since switched to a trans-fat-free oil.) "If I had known that KFC uses an unnatural frying oil and that the food was so high in trans fat, I would have reconsidered my choices," Hoyte said.

But the evidence Hoyte cited to back up his class action, which was supported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, consisted largely of information KFC itself disseminated through its Web site and point-of-sale posters. In May, a federal judge dismissed the suit.

Deadly Drinking. Last spring, after a fraternity initiation rite, Gary DeVercelly Jr., an 18-year-old freshman at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., was pronounced dead at a Trenton hospital. He had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.43 percent. In August, local prosecutors responded by charging three students and two university officials with "aggravated hazing," which carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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