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Opioid Painkiller Lawsuits

Opioid Painkiller Lawsuits

Over 59,000 Americans died in 2016 of drug overdose deaths, according to a June 2017 report by the New York Times.  And the problem is only getting worse.  The 59,000 figure represents a 19% increase over the number of deaths in 2015.  And preliminary numbers indicate the number will continue to rise dramatically when figures for 2017 are available.  Since 1999, the number of prescription opioid deaths has quadrupled.  Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under age 50.

Recent Opioid Painkiller Lawsuits

Recently, the state of Ohio sued five manufacturers of opioid class drugs.  Defendants in the suit are Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Cephalon, Johnson and Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan.  Mississippi filed suit months ago against some opioid manufacturers.  There will be more opioid painkiller lawsuits to hold these drug companies accountable for the millions lost by businesses, counties, and cities at the hands of opioid drugs.   Our North Carolina personal injury attorneys are monitoring these opioid painkiller lawsuits and others to see how we can help our clients.

What are Opioid Narcotics?

Opioid narcotics are a class of drugs that bind to opioid receptors to block or reduce the feeling of pain.  Examples include hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, tramadol, morphine, heroin, and methadone.  Opioids are regularly prescribed by doctors to treat pain and serious injuries and surgeries.  But more and more over the last several years, they have been prescribed to treat chronic pain.  Since 1999, the number of prescription painkillers sold in America has quadrupled.

The result, all too often, is addiction.   Prescription opioid overdose deaths claimed more lives from 1999 – 2008 than deaths caused by heroin and cocaine combined.  Researchers note that many of those heroin deaths themselves can be traced back to prescription opioids, because patients initially become addicted to prescription opioids, then turn to street drugs to feed their addiction after their prescriptions run out.

The Opioid Crisis

The result is a public health epidemic.  The New York Times describes the problem as more severe than the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.  Unfortunately, this is no exaggeration.  During the recent debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) many Republican Senators who supported the repeal voiced serious concern over what proposed cuts to Medicaid would do to opioid addiction centers in their states, and the repeal has (to date) failed due to these concerns.  Clearly, the opioid epidemic is reshaping lives across the nation.

As a result of this epidemic, many opioid addicts and areas ravaged by addiction are now filing opioid painkiller lawsuits against physicians, pharmacists, and drug wholesalers.  These opioid painkiller lawsuits claim that doctors, drug companies, and “pill mills” exploited patients and got them hooked on prescription opioid narcotics.  The outcome is addiction and death, but also losses to whole communities who pay the tab for the opioid epidemic in the form of their health insurance premiums, public Medicaid dollars, and costs of law enforcement.

Holding Big Pharma Accountable

Opioids were originally intended to treat serious, acute pain, like victims of car accidents or surgeries.  But increasingly, opioids have been prescribed to treat chronic pain or long-term pain.  Initially, this primarily included treatment of cancers.  But over time, they began to be prescribed to other conditions, such as chronic back pain.  The increase was predicated by a change in the medical community to focus on pain not as a symptom of a medical problem, but as a medical problem itself that should be treated seriously and aggressively.

Unfortunately, opioid narcotics have a spotty record of effective pain management for chronic pain, to say the least.  In fact, a 2016 University of Colorado study found that opioids actually increase chronic pain.   The United States Center for Disease Control has publicly discouraged doctors from prescribing opioids due to their highly addictive nature and the ever-present threat of overdose.  As CDC director Tom Frieden told the Washington Post, “Prescription opioids are as addictive as heroin.”

So if we know that opioid drugs are not effective at treating chronic pain and that they have serious problems such as addiction, then why would doctors prescribe such powerful narcotics to their patients?  The answer can be traced to big pharmaceutical corporations.

From 1996 to 2002, Oxycontin sales increased from 300,000 prescriptions to 7,200,000, a staggering increase of 24 times.  Not surprisingly, the revenue increased accordingly, from $44 million in sales to $1.5 billion in sales over that same period.  The staggering increase can be traced to marketing.  In 2001 alone, Purdue spent $200 million marketing Oxycontin.  Sales representatives received six-figure bonuses.  They compiled lists of high-prescribing doctors and targeted them to target their patients.  Purdue handed out promotional material to their targeted doctors – things like hats, plush toys, coffee mugs, and coupons for free Oxycontin prescriptions to hand out to their patients.  Purdue also conducted conferences where they hosted physicians and their families and even paid doctors to be their spokesmen and provide speeches on the merits of Oxycontin and to target other doctors.

But the paid speeches and marketing material may have been based on false data with potentially deadly consequences.  Purdue claimed that Oxycontin and Oxycodone posed an addiction risk of less than 1%.  Sales reps told doctors that their drug didn’t even cause a buzz.  Meanwhile, Purdue rolled out stronger and stronger pills, with even higher addiction and abuse risks.  Patients who previously would have been prescribed ibuprofen could be prescribed Oxycontin, with better results and no greater risk!

In 2007, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to misleading doctors and patients about the addictive potential of Oxycontin and to mislabeling the drug as “abuse resistant”.  And in 2015, after a nine-year legal battle, Purdue agreed to a $24 million settlement with the state of Kentucky for alleged Medicaid fraud involving Oxycontin.  These are just the tip of the iceberg.  Numerous other criminal and civil investigations and opioid painkiller lawsuits are pending.  Recently, lawsuits have been filed against wholesalers such as McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen Drug Co, alleging that these wholesalers turned a blind eye to abuse, and in fact encouraged it with their actions, spreading addiction and destruction.  The lawsuit alleges that from 2007 to 2012, the defendants supplied pills for over 1.8 million people, earning revenues of over $17 billion.  West Virginia Senator Joe Mankin has endorsed the lawsuit, saying that these drugs were handed out “like M&Ms.”

Contact Our Opioid Painkiller Lawsuit Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been the victim of opioid narcotics, contact our North Carolina opioid painkiller lawsuit attorneys to learn about your rights.  You may have a legitimate claim that could help you and your family obtain the relief that you need.  Our consultation is always free and we quickly respond to our website inquiries, emails, and phone calls.  Call Riddle & Brantley at (800) 525-7111.