It’s been called an epidemic and a national health emergency, and it has probably affected someone you know. America’s opioid issue has taken center stage in recent months, highlighted by President Trump declaring it a public health emergency in October 2017.
But how did this reach epidemic proportions? Opiate addiction in America has a history.
For instance, the Civil War left many Americans injured and seeking relief, creating an opioid epidemic dating back to the late 19th century, according to Robert Heimer at Yale School of Public Health. From there, thanks to scientific advances and social changes, medications boomed in the U.S.
Information from the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates Americans—who made up just 5 percent of the world’s population—consumed 75 percent of the world’s prescription drugs in 2011. In addition, 52 million Americans older than 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically in their lifetime.
And there lies the issue with opioids. Even if they are prescribed for a legitimate medical reason, they often end up being abused due to their high propensity for addiction.
Derived from the opium poppy plant, opioids, including painkillers like morphine, methadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone, are sold under brand names OxyCotin, Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, Tylox and Demerol. Though legal in some uses, another opioid named fentanyl, which can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin, is often used non-medically and is linked—along with fentanyl-like drugs–to more than 19,000 deaths last year.
Together both illegal and legal forms of opioids were credited with a drop in American life expectancy for the second year in a row—which hasn’t happened since the 1920s—and the rise in the number of drug deaths from 52,000 in 2015 to 63,600 in 2016, according to a CBS News report. The number of opioid-related overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999.
Robert Anderson, who oversees death statistics for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the news source: “If we don’t get a handle on this, we could very well see a third year in a row. With no end in sight.”
Misuse of opioids has cost thousands of lives, and in courtrooms across the country, the quest to hold accountable those responsible has begun. Now local and state governments are looking into whether manufacturers and distributors used deception to influence how doctors prescribed and patients used opioids.
Manufacturers like Purdue Pharma, which created OxyCotin, are facing mounting lawsuits claiming their marketing tactics led to the creation of the opioid epidemic, which has largely been paid for by government and health care entities. The attorneys general of more than 41 states are looking into the allegations, along with many cities and hospitals.
Beasley Allen has filed suits on behalf of the city of Greenville and Houston County in Alabama. Attorney Rhon Jones, who is handling the cases, explains: “These manufacturers aggressively pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, turning patients into addicts for their own corporate profits. The manufacture and distribution of these dangerous drugs, along with the intentional misrepresentation to doctors and the public about their risks, breached these companies’ legal duties under federal and state law. Rather than investigate suspicious orders of prescription opiates, they simply pocketed the profits at the expense of the public.”
And suffer the public has. Opioid addiction is incredibly difficult to treat. By some reports, it takes addicts well over a year of “skilled, intense inpatient treatment to even have a chance of recovery,” according to an article in The Atlantic detailing how opioid addiction cost one college student his life despite more than a year of treatment.
Aiding those in the grip of addiction or those otherwise affected is often pricey. While the U.S.’s public health emergency fund had only $56,000 in it when the president declared a health emergency, the government estimates combating the crisis costs $75 billion per year, leaving many to wonder how much more Big Pharma will cost the public.
To inquire about a case related to serious injuries or death related to opioid addiction, contact Melissa Prickett in the firm’s Mass Torts Section at Melissa.Prickett@bealseyallen.com. For cases involving economic losses to city, governments or municipalities, contact Rhon Jones, head of the firm’s Toxic Torts Section, at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com. You may also call the firm at 800-898-2034.
National Institute on Drug Abuse