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.