Municipal and County governments, like Suffolk County, New York are currently pursuing litigation against leading opioid manufacturers for the County’s medical, public health, and law enforcement costs related to opioid abuse. The lawsuits allege that the opioid addiction stems from the manufacturers’ over promotion and sales of prescription opioid medications such as OxyContin and Percocet.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-founder of Physicians for the Responsible Opioid Prescribing group, provided the following analysis of the Suffolk County case to a New York NPR affiliate, explaining how the broader Suffolk County lawsuit gets to the heart of why doctors were over prescribing opioids.
“We were responding to marketing – really a brilliant marketing campaign – and in some cases marketing disguised as education – that led us to believe that the risks of addiction had been overblown, led us to believe that we had been allowing patients to suffer needlessly, that we could be more compassionate if we prescribed opioids more liberally; and that campaign was filled with misinformation,” he said in the article.
Several county governments in New York have filed their own opioid lawsuits that make similar allegations to the Suffolk County litigation, including:
The toll opioid addiction has taken on American society as a whole has been commonly referred to as the “opioid epidemic.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), it is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide. An estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, and an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin.
The opioid epidemic has been called the worst drug crisis in American history, and the associated death rates are comparable to those of AIDS in the 1990s, according to a Frontline report. The epidemic has hit nearly everyone, regardless of race. Every racial demographic has seen more overdoses since 1999, with heroin spiking especially after 2010. Whites and Native Americans have experienced the largest rise in death rates, particularly when it comes to opioid-related fatalities. By 2014, whites and Native Americans were dying at double or triple the rates of African-Americans and Latinos.
The total number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the United States has skyrocketed in the past 25 years. The number of prescriptions for opioids have risen from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013. The United States is the biggest global consumer, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone and 81 percent for oxycodone. An estimated 165,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2014.
Aside from the pain caused to individuals and families affected on a personal level by this addiction crisis, communities across the United States have shouldered real costs in trying to combat the opioid epidemic. The annual estimated economic burden of prescription opioid abuse in the United States totals a startling $78.4 billion dollars. This breaks down to an average aggregate distribution as follows:
1 Sources: The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin are typically prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. They act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. When these drugs attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain and can produce a sense of well being and pleasure; people who abuse opioids often seek to intensify their experience by taking the drug in ways other than those prescribed.
Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them, and as many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction. In 2014, nearly two million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain relievers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Taking too many prescription opioids can stop a person’s breathing—leading to death. Opioids include both brand name and generic versions of the following:
Every day, over 1,000 people receive treatment in emergency departments for the misuse of prescription opioids, and U.S. law enforcement officers are shouldering the heavy burden of responding to an endless string of narcotics-related calls while attempting to protect themselves from exposure to lethal substances including the potent opioid fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.
Other counties and municipal governments around the United States are currently pursuing opioid litigation against pharmaceutical companies, including:
Communities have the ability to make a difference now in their fight against the opioid epidemic by taking the following preventative actions.
Be Aware: Recognize the opioid manufacturers’ marketing tactics for what they are.
Be Proactive: Account for community costs associated with the following:
Be Prepared: Know your legal rights – both individually and collectively.
Municipalities, county governments and other community organizations may be able to hold the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid epidemic responsible and begin the healing process.
Communities, by filing lawsuits, are seeking to hold drug companies responsible for the following costs:
Learn your rights by scheduling a free legal consultation today.
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