Opioid Epidemic Crisis: Lawsuits Put Giant Pharmaceutical Companies in Hot Water


Is the onus for opioid addiction drug manufacturers or patients who misuse these drugs?

The ongoing problem of opioid abuse and misuse continues to rise in the United States. As a result, lawsuit after lawsuit is being filed by state attorney generals and advocates against several pharmaceutical giants, with the most recent filed weeks ago.

The lawsuits focus on how drug manufacturers deliberately fail to disclose that these painkillers are, in nature, addictive by way of their marketing strategies. Since this is the case, these pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceuticals, are being blamed for the opioid epidemic. They are now the defendants of a lawsuit in Ohio that accuses them of investing millions of dollars for not totally disclosing the risks of opioids to consumers.

According to the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Mike DeWine, these giant pharmaceutical players are also enticing the public with numerous benefits and efficacy for chronic pain. Moreover, they allegedly try to lobby doctors on the safety of these drugs and persuade them to change their views. If the state wins, it will ask the court to make these companies shoulder the expenses and consequences related to the opioid epidemic.

Why Ohio?

While there have been reports of opioid abuse in different states, the Buckeye State tops the ranks of the highest number of deaths related to drug overdoses, particularly from opioids. Five years ago, a reported 793 million opioid doses were prescribed in Ohio. This alarming number is comparable to giving every resident, including children, 68 pills each. Moreover, approximately 20% of the state’s total population had access to the drug last year through prescriptions.

Number of Opioid Epidemic Lawsuits

Aside from the recent case filed by the Ohio State Attorney General, a handful of states have also brought pharmaceutical companies to court, including Purdue Pharma. In New York, there were 4 counties, while in California, there were Orange and Santa Clara counties. Other lawsuits were recently filed in Illinois, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, in which the Cherokee Nation went to the tribal court against pharmacies and drug distributors over the opioid epidemic.

In January this year, Purdue Pharma was also the defendant in the lawsuit filed in the state of Washington. The city of Everett, WA, accused the company of allegedly turning a blind eye on the issue of OxyContin, manufactured by Purdue, being sold in the black market.

Significant Evidence

An investigation was done by the Los Angeles Times on Purdue Pharma, which suggests that pharmaceutical companies have a part in aggravating the opioid epidemic. The article charged that the well-known drug company knew that the supposed shelf life of OxyContin is not what it really says. Instead of 12 hours of pain relief, the effect is shorter, therefore, patients suffer from withdrawal symptoms that lead to drug addiction, according to the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, Purdue said that the drug has been FDA-approved in terms of the 12-hour pain relief.

Skeptics and Opinion-Makers on These Lawsuits

While state-filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies stand a chance to win, skeptics and other critics argue these actions might not show favorable results, since it will be hard to prove their cases. Several lawsuits filed by individuals against opioid marketing by drug companies failed and the courts have also clarified that being addicted to drugs is largely the responsibility of the individual.

University of Kentucky College professor Richard Ausness contends that a drug overdose is likely a result of misuse and negligence of a person. This results from not following the doctor’s orders when it comes to taking the drug.

The same view is shared by University of Florida law professor Lars Noah. He said that proving the marketing strategies of these pharmaceutical companies contribute to drug overdoses is difficult. The professor added that the customers are the ones not taking the painkillers as prescribed.

In the case of Purdue, Noah explained that given the admission of guilt by the company that resulted in a multi-million settlement with the federal government and its subsequent actions to rectify their wrongdoings, it will be hard to prove this in court and hold the company accountable.

Some skeptics are saying that the recent lawsuit filed in Ohio State might be politically motivated, since DeWine has his eyes on being governor. Instead of putting the blame on companies, putting an end to the opioid epidemic should be the focus, according to the skeptics.

Meanwhile, not only are the big players in the pharmaceutical industry in hot water. Individual pharmacies risk closure due to direct and indirect remuneration fees, along with several other factors.

Joshua Pirestani is the President and founder of the American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance.

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