Updates on The Opioid Epidemic

One of the biggest national crises of the last twenty years is what some refer to as the Opioid Epidemic. Deaths from overdosing on prescription and non-prescription opioid painkillers began to skyrocket in the late 1990's. This epidemic is now the leading cause of death in Americans under fifty years of age. The worst part about this drug crisis is that it should have been preventable, but dishonest doctors and scheming drug companies worked together to make billions as ordinary patients became addicted to drugs they were told had low or no risk of addiction. On the streets, opioids have become highly trafficked and have lead to further deaths. The harm the opioid epidemic has done has cost more than just human lives. Some estimates put the cost of supporting and caring for those affected by opioid addictions at over $75 billion dollars each year. The crisis has put an unneeded strain on our healthcare system that is not expected to be alleviated for decades.

We've covered a number of stories and incidents over the last year that shows just how out of hand the opioid epidemic has gotten.

 


In January of 2008, New York city brought lawsuits against eight opioid manufacturers. The city sought half a billion dollars in compensation while claiming that drug companies were misleading consumers about the safety of opioids while at the same time they were intentionally oversupplying and underreporting prescriptions of opioids in order to boost their profits.

 


As more focus has been placed on the causes of the opioid epidemic, some of the companies behind the mass production of opioids have begun distancing themselves from the drugs they themselves sold. For instance, in March of 2016, we saw that Purdue Pharma, one of the biggest names in opioids, had decided it would no longer be marketing its painkilling drugs, like OxyContin, to doctors. Multi-billion dollar companies rarely admit mistakes, but when you see one step away from a drug that made them many millions of dollars, it is practically the same thing.

 


In many ways, though, Purdue Pharma's move away from its core drugs was a too little too late moment. Just a few months earlier, reports about the company's activities painted a company that was actively looking for new and sometimes blatantly unethical ways to increase its profits from its opioid based drugs. At one point the company was looking at setting up opioid addiction treatment programs to help people with the addictive effects of the drugs they were widely marketing. When combined with their other efforts to increase opioid sales and convince doctors to prescribe larger doses, and their overall opioid strategy just starts to feel wrong. According to some reports, they even fired one of their employees who officially raised the alarm about doctors overprescribing OxyContin.


Fortunately, this bad behavior does not seem to have gone unpunished, at least not in the long run. In mid-march, Purdue Pharma publicly announced that they were considering filing for bankruptcy. At the time, Purdue Pharma was coming to terms with a lawsuit in the state of Oklahoma that might have reached the $1 billion mark. After making billions of dollars selling addictive drugs, that the company would then go into bankruptcy seemed a bit farfetched.

 


More recently, in July of this year, new information came to light that showed an outrageous amount of opioids being prescribed in some states in towns. The Washington Post managed to obtain a secret database that the DEA had kept on opioid sales and distribution data from at least 2006 to 2012. After digging into the data, investigators found some truly shocking numbers such as the state of West Virginia having so many opioid pills distributed that each of its residents would have received 60 of them each year. Even more outrageous, one town in Virginia had prescribed enough opioid pills that each of its 4,000 residents could have received 306 pills each year. These kind of numbers help explain why opioids had become so widespread that they have now become known as a crisis or epidemic.

 

Update, soon after we complied this report, a new story about opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma broke. Here are the details: 

A big update in the ongoing opioid crisis was widely reported yesterday. Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have apparently floated the idea of a $10 to $12 billion settlement in response to the nearly 2,000 city, state and county lawsuits pending against them.

In order to pay for this settlement, Purdue Pharma would need to declare bankruptcy, and even then, roughly half of the $7 to $8 billion would be made up in opioid-overdose medication that Purdue Pharma produces. The rest would come from ongoing profits of the company's drug sales. The Sacklers would pay for their part of the settlement in large part by selling off their international drug company Mundipharma.

All this came to light during a meeting with several state attorneys general, but this deal also came with a warning. Lawyers from Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family said if this deal was not agreed to, Purdue Pharma would most likely declare bankruptcy all the same which, without the deal in place, would make it a lot tougher to collect fines and payments from the company.

In what feels like an insincere twist, Purdue Pharma put out an official statement that included: "The people and communities affected by the opioid crisis need help now. Purdue believes a constructive global resolution is the best path forward, and the company is actively working with the state attorneys general and other plaintiffs to achieve this outcome." That seems a bit much for one of the larger companies that helped drive this opioid epidemic in the first place.

 

Taken individually, these stories and cases point to bad decisions and unfortunate actions on behalf of opioid manufactures and the doctors that prescribed the pills to patients. When considered together as part of more than a decade of behavior, the severity of the opioid epidemic starts to become clear. These companies were doing everything they could to influence doctors to overprescribe their drugs. They encouraged larger doses, managed to get significant health organizations to repeat their, at best, unverified claims about the safety of their medications, secretly looked into playing both sides of the game by prescribing the drugs and then set up programs to help those who became addicted, and finally threatened to declare bankruptcy when their actions came to light.

Opioid addictions and drug overprescription are not just national issues. They can affect people in East Texas just as easily as they can in West Virginia. If you or a love one think may have been affected by the opioid crisis you need someone who handles medical malpractice cases on a daily basis. Give the Martin Walker law firm a call at 903-526-1600 for a free case evaluation.


Congressional Report Shows World Health Organization Republished Opioid Industry Talking Points

The case against opioids and opioid manufactures gets more disturbing each time a new investigation comes to a conclusion. This time, a congressional report titled "Exposing Dangerous Opioid Manufacturer Influence At The World Health Organization" brought to light at least two World Health Organization guidance documents that appeared to mirror some of the discredited claims previously made by Purdue Pharma about the risk of opioid addiction.

For instance, one of the discredited claims that the WHO repeated was the false idea that less than 1% of opioid users ever became addicted to the powerful drugs. The congressional report notes that the 1% figure was already in question at the time that the WHO included it in its guidance documents, and that the 1% figure has since been shown to be closer to 8 to 12% of opioid users who become addicted after taking drugs like OxyContin.

WHO documents also used industry terms like "opiophobia" and made suggestions that there was no limit on the dosage of opioids that should be given to children, another drug industry supplied fact that has since been shown to be false. The same documents even did away with the middle range of pain management treatments for children and instead suggested that doctors go from prescribing normal pain killers on the low end then move straight to opioids without first trying mid-level treatments.

This congressional report just goes to show how big a push opioid producers made to get their own claims into places that they generally did not deserve go. Unwinding the opioid epidemic is going to take more investigations like this one revealing the truth.


Newly Federal Database Shows The Extent Of The Opioid Epidemic

Stunning new data was released this week as part of an ongoing series of lawsuits that have been brought against opioid makers. As reported in the Washington Post, detailed information from a previously unreleased Drug Enforcement Administration database shows the scale of this addictive drug crisis in ways we have not previously seen.

The database was compiled from sales and distribution data provided to the DEA by the opioid makers themselves. It contains detailed info on where opioid pills were shipped and purchased down to a town by town level. Opioid manufacturers fought for over a year to keep this database secret, but a ruling by an Ohio federal court saw the information released to the public this week.

This newly released data shines a spotlight on just how enormous the opioid epidemic has become. Some key facts and figures that researchers have uncovered so far show:

  • Yearly opioid shipments increased around 50% from 2006 to 2012.
  • The total number of pills shipped, over 76 billion, would have been enough to supply every person living in the United States with 36 pills each year.
  • In some states, such as West Virginia, the number of pills distributed each year per person was even higher. Each year, every West Virginian could have been supplied with over 60 opioid pills because of the high number of opioids sold in the state.
  • Focusing down to the city level, the numbers look even more outrageous in some rural locations. In Norton, Virginia, a town with a population of roughly 4,000 people, enough opioids were sold to supply each person with 306 pills each year!

Over the last two decades, the questionable sales and prescriptions of opioids like oxycodone have generated massive profits for the companies producing them. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives after becoming addicted to those same drugs. This latest release of disturbing information just further illustrates how large a crisis the opioid epidemic has become.


Opioid Pharmaceutical Company Facing Bankruptcy

Opioid Pharmaceutical Company Facing Bankruptcy

One of the largest pharmaceutical firms and producer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, has stated that they are considering bankruptcy.

The Chief Executive Officer, Craig Landau, stated March 13thon the topic, “We are considering it, but we’ve really made no decisions on what course of actions to pursue. A lot depends on what unfolds in the weeks and months ahead.”

After many lawsuits and allegations of deceptive marketing practices to promote the highly addictive substance, to which Purdue has denied, one of their divisive strategies is to declare bankruptcy to stop all litigation.

The people affected by Purdue’s actions in the state of Oklahoma could be seeking more than $1 billion from defendants, according to The Washington Post.

Over 45,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2017. While 17,029 have died from Prescription Opioids in 2017. The statistics of 2018 have yet to be published but based on the trends, it seems like it could go either way.
We are now seeing trends of an opioid, Fentanyl, growing in use as a continuation of the opioid epidemic that has been a severe issue for over a decade now.

Purdue, essentially, marketed the drugs to people for use and after a large portion of the American population became addicted, they began creating marketing campaigns to get them off of the opioids that they originally made. Purdue is facing billions of dollars in fines.

If you know of someone, or are someone, who has been affected by the opioid crisis, we are here to help you get the justice that you deserve. Call Martin Walker Law today.


Opioid Drug Maker Purdue Pharma Had Some Ethics Problems

Opioid Drug Maker Purdue Pharma Had Some Ethics Problems

Recently released documents from the ongoing lawsuit against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma show a worrying lack of ethics in regards to the way the company and its controlling family marketed the addictive painkiller and hid those addictions from doctors and insurance companies.
A new report by Ars Technica paints a picture of the Sackler family, who is one of Purdue Pharma's largest shareholders and who sits on the company's board of directors, taking drastic action to keep their profits flowing at the expense of the patients being harmed by OxyContin's addictive properties. According to the released documents, Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers:

  • Pushed for the marketing of larger, and thus more addictive, doses of OxyContin.
  • Increased the sales force marketing the drug to doctors on several occasions.
  • Expanded discounts on OxyContin because data showed making the drug cheaper often led to patients staying on the drug far longer.
  • Worked on secretive plans to begin moving into opioid addiction treatment when they knew the opioid drugs they were marketing were addictive. (The company had long denied its drugs were addictive!)
  • Considered dropping health insurance company Cigna as the provider of Purdue Pharma's company health plan after Cigna cut OxyContin in favor of a rival drug from another health company.

The article detailing these new details had one final kicker: In 2012, at least one employee of Purdue Pharma raised alarms about doctors overprescribing OxyContin:

"...it seems to make sense for a number of reasons for us to share the information on Region 0 doctors with payers. At a basic level, it just seems like the right and ethical thing to do. Doing so could help those companies identify those physicians that may be of a concern, not just with respect to our products, but also other CII and CIII therapies. As a result, if it reduces abuse and diversion of opioids then it seems like something we should be doing."

Apparently, that employee no longer worked for Purdue Pharma just a month later.
Opioid addiction has been considered a major health epidemic in the United States, and now, as we get a look behind the scenes, we are increasingly seeing that the companies making these addictive drugs sometimes had deceptive motives in the way they sold them and in the ways they planned to addressed and even profit from increased concerns of patient addiction.


Should Medical Malpractice Be Listed As A Cause Of Death?

We have mentioned before that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US. In fact, it's just under heart disease and cancer if placed in the official CDC annual report of the leading causes of death in the United States.
In 2013 medical error deaths reached 250,000 as compared to 98,000 in 1999. Why is it that this common cause of death is never listed anywhere by the CDC as a leading cause of death as it does for heart disease and COPD? It's possible that if the annual reporting of this cause of death were actually published people would start to become more aware of this serious issue. When these types of errors occur, hospitals and doctors never voluntarily admit their fault. A study published from 2013 recorded that only 9 percent of patients said that the hospital voluntarily disclosed medical errors in their case. In our state of Texas, the Medical Board receives over 7,000 complaints a year. These complaints are usually from the patients themselves or their families in regards to their health care provider. These complaints are statistically on the rise and are not being met with the level of attention they deserve. It's up to all of us to keep this in mind when dealing with our own health care providers. We must hold them accountable if anything goes wrong, and keep our friends and family informed of these statistics. Unfortunately, Texas pays less compensation to malpractice victims than any other state in our country.
There are a lot of challenges that face the victims of medical malpractice. The attorneys at Martin Walker Law will thoroughly investigate your situation and will work endlessly to make sure that you are compensated to the full amount possible. Contact us today for a free consultation and get the help you deserve today. (903) 526-1600.


Retailers Employ Blue Lights To Help Curb Drug Use

The next time you step into a convenience store restroom you may find it lit by blue lights.
In order to try and do something to combat the growing opioid epidemic, some supermarket chains are trialing a new method to deter drug use in their public restrooms. By replacing restrooms’ normal white florescent lights with blue ones, they hope to make it harder for drug users to find the blue colored veins that they would normally use when injecting drugs from a syringe.
This new strategy seems to be working for at least one retailer who as given it a try. Turkey Hill Minit Markets in Lancaster Pennsylvania was reported as saying that they have seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of overdose incidents since they started trialing the blue lit restrooms around six months ago.
It’s not just convenient stores that are trying this new blue light strategy. The city of Philadelphia has started offering an anti-drug kit to its residents that includes a blue tinted light bulb after drug overdose deaths increased by more than 30 percent in the last year.
For more information on this story, see the article over at ABC News.


Major Opioid Maker Calls It Quits

Could the tide be turning in the opioid crisis? Purdue Pharma, one of the major manufacturers of opioid painkillers has announced that they will no longer be marketing the drug to doctors.
The company has said it will be cutting its sales force roughly in half and shifting entirely away from marketing the OxyContin painkiller that made it billions of dollars over the past two decades.
OxyContin was originally marketed as being far less likely to be addictive than previous pain killers. This turned out to be false, and by 2007, the company was forced to admit that it had lied to doctors and patients about the risks associated with the drug. The resulting fines totaled to almost $600 million.
Now that the mood of the country has shifted, and opioid addiction is being more regularly recognized for the health emergency that it is, companies like Purdue Pharma are backing away from the drugs that helped drive their profits.
Any good news is welcome, of course, but In the meantime, the so called opioid epidemic is not over. Tens of thousands still die each year due to the ongoing drug crisis. If you or a loved one has suffered due to drug addiction or bad drug prescriptions, you may be entitled to compensation.
For more information, give us a call at (903) 526-1600, email us at info@martinwalkerlaw.com, or use our contact page to get in touch with us.


NYC Sues Opioid Manufacturers In $500 Million Lawsuit

Tuesday of this week was quite eventful for New York City.

The city itself is bringing suits against eight manufacturers of prescription opioids, stating that they are driving the epidemic that has affected NYC. Bill de Blasio, the mayor of the largest city in the U.S., states that the lawsuit is seeking $500 million in damages in order to fight the continuing opioid problem.
The companies and manufacturers being sued are:

  • Allergan Plc
  • AmerisourceBergen Corp
  • Cardinal Health Inc.
  • Endo International Plc
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • McKesson Corp
  • Purdue Pharma LP
  • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd

The state court complaint filing pointed fingers at these manufacturers for misleading consumers that opioids, which includes medical painkillers, were safe in treating prolonged pain with an insignificant possibility of dependence.
The city is saying that manufacturers of these dangerous products are intentionally oversupplying and not reporting suspicious prescription refills which subsidizes a portion of the black market.
Which is now the result of 42,249 deaths in the United States within one year alone (2016).