As the pharmaceutical industry fights off a flood of lawsuits, there’s an increased call to investigate the roles of executives pushing opioid painkillers

The mayor of the West Virginia city that has come to symbolise America’s opioid epidemic has called for the jailing of pharmaceutical company executives he likens to street corner drug dealers.

Steve Williams, mayor of Huntington, a city ravaged by prescription pill and heroin addiction, said he wants to see executives face criminal prosecution, after it was revealed that a member of the family that made billions of dollars from the painkiller that unleashed the epidemic stands to profit further after he was granted a patent for an anti-addiction medicine.

“They are drug dealers in Armani suits,” said Williams. “You have the corporate executives that are the ones who make the decisions. Just because this person is working on a street corner selling drugs and this other person is working in the executive suite 50 storeys up, is there really that much of a difference?