Record numbers of people are dying as a result of America’s opioid crisis, and the costs – both emotional and financial – are mounting. While average citizens are the ones paying the ultimate price, it is governments at the state and local levels that are often facing the resulting financial woes, a burden most are unable to handle. These governments are working to hold responsible those who caused this public health crisis.
The cases against opioid drug manufacturers and distributors have been compared to the tobacco litigation that is still being paid out to this day. Only time will tell if the results equate, but the premise is the same: Make those responsible for causing the health issue pay for it.
That’s the basis of suits filed by more than 100 cities, states and counties around the country against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The attorney general of Mississippi was the first to file and now the majority of states have launched investigations into the issue with additional municipalities following almost daily.
Natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic versions of opioids include fentanyl, oxycodone (e.g., Oxycontin), propoxyphene (e.g., Darvocet), morphine, hydromorphone (e.g., Dilaudid), meperidine (e.g., Demerol), methadone, hydrocodone, codeine and diphenoxylate. The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers this explanation about how that list of drugs became so popular:
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and health care providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.
The catch is these manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue Pharma LP, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan Inc., Mallinckrodt LLC, Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Corp. and McKesson Corp, did know the risks. Instead of being transparent, these companies mislead health practitioners and consumers about the risks while working to expand their market.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, five times the number of deaths in 1999. West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Kentucky led the country with the highest death rates. Like those states, others around the country are paying for rescue and resuscitation efforts, long- and short-term medical care and child care for those impacted by opioids, in addition to public safety and law enforcement efforts. Those costs add up quickly and due to finite funding, impact the ability of these municipalities to operate as planned.
In December 2017, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled that the growing number of opioid lawsuits filed by local governments across the country blaming drug companies and distributors for contributing to the national opioid epidemic would be centralized in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Northern District Court of Ohio under U.S. District Judge Aaron Polster. Since then, the MDL has grown to about 180 lawsuits – with more likely coming.
As a member of the Beasley Allen team traveling to meet with cities and states about these issues, I’ve heard their concerns first-hand. We are currently handling the opioid suits on behalf of the State of Alabama, as well as the City of Greenville, Houston County, Barbour County, and health care providers such as Mobile County Emergency Medical Services. These entities and the citizens they serve are suffering due to the intentional actions of large corporations that didn’t think they would have to take responsibility for their false, deceptive and unfair/unlawful practices. All they have done is pocket the profits at the expense of the public, and it’s time that comes to an end.
National Institute on Drug Abuse