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The Opioid Epidemic: Part II of Our Three-Part Series

The Opioid Epidemic: Part II of Our Three-Part Series

At Casey Law Offices, S.C., we focus exclusively on prosecuting injury claims to ensure negligent individuals and businesses are held accountable for irresponsible behavior resulting in injury, so those who are harmed are fairly compensated. We represent individuals who have suffered a variety of injuries, including those related to the national opioid crisis. Call us today at (414) 272-3776 for a free consultation.

In our Three-Part Series, “The Opioid Epidemic,” we take a look at how and why the abuse of prescription opioid drugs has become a national crisis that has weakened our social fabric, devastated families, and taxed the economy. The series also explores pharmaceutical companies’ roles in the growing epidemic, and how government and individuals are holding these companies responsible.

Part II. The Opioid Epidemic in Wisconsin - Holding Drug-Makers and Distributors Accountable

Approximately 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids. Another 90 million Americans have used prescription painkillers in the past year. It’s expected that by the end of the year, tens of thousands will have died from an overdose of a prescription opioid painkiller.

Wisconsin has already lost hundreds of its citizens to the opioid epidemic, and many more will die before the year’s end. In Wisconsin, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths more than tripled, jumping from 194 deaths in 2003 to 622 deaths in 2014, according to research done by the state task force last year. Sadly, the prescription drug epidemic will not resolve itself anytime soon.

However, some progress is being made on the accountability front. A sizeable number of pharmaceutical companies are being forced to explain their role in the crisis in court. In an effort to ensure these companies shoulder some of the blame and public costs of the damages wreaked by opioids, dozens of state and local governments throughout the country have filed lawsuits. Defendants include drug-makers such as Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, and Allergan and Teva, drugstore chains such as Walgreens and CVS, and distributors such as Cardinal Health and McKesson Corporation. The lawsuits argue that drug-makers are using aggressive sales tactics to boost revenues from the drugs while downplaying the risks. Some lawsuits also argue that pharmacy chains and wholesalers are violating the Federal Controlled Substances Act by failing to alert the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of suspicious opioid purchases (such as large numbers of pills sold that are diverted to the black market).

The government lawsuits are helping recoup some of the costs. This is good news, considering the economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the U.S. runs close to $80 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These costs relate to healthcare, drug treatment, lost productivity, and criminal justice.

The attorney general of Ohio, the state with the highest number of opioid-related overdose deaths, filed a lawsuit against 5 pharmaceutical companies in May, claiming the companies’ marketing campaigns “trivialize[d] the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits” of their effectiveness at treating chronic pain. The lawsuit alleged that the companies engaged in fraudulent marketing regarding the risks and benefits of the drugs, which fueled Ohio’s opioid epidemic. Named in the lawsuit are Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan.

This is not the first time Purdue Pharma has been taken to court. In 2007, Purdue marketed its OxyContin as a “12-hour pain reliever” – helping to make it the best-selling opioid painkiller in American and helping Purdue Pharma turn a profit of $31 billion that year.

The painkiller wore off much sooner than 12 hours, causing patients to have withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Purdue knew that the 12-hour claim was false, yet it still marketed the drug this way.

To combat this, doctors began prescribing OxyContin for shorter periods, but Purdue recommended stronger doses. This caused patients to try to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms by taking additional doses of the drug, leading to addiction and dependence.

To reach a settlement, the company agreed to pay around $600 million in fines and other payments, one of the largest amounts ever paid by a drug company in such a case. In addition, 3 company executives, including Purdue’s president, pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors, and patients about the drug’s risk of addiction and its potential to be abused.

Opioid Lawsuits Are Being Won Against Pharmaceutical Companies Across the Nation

The lawsuit recently filed by Ohio is just one of many. Illinois, Mississippi, 4 counties in New York, 2 counties in California, the Cherokee Nation, and the city of Everett, Washington have all filed lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.

While dozens of cases are currently being argued throughout the country, some recent settlements include:

  1. In August, Illinois’ attorney general announced that Insys Therapeutics Inc. agreed to pay $4.45 million to resolve a lawsuit filed by the state that claimed it deceptively marketed an addictive fentanyl-based cancer pain drug for off-label uses. The settlement will resolve accusations that Insys illegally marketed its product Subsys to high-volume prescribers of opioid drugs, instead of to oncologists treating cancer patients. “It’s unethical, greedy behavior by companies like Insys that is responsible for creating the opioid epidemic and resulting overdose deaths in our state,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. As part of the Illinois settlement, Insys also agreed to create a program aimed at identifying prescribers who abuse opioids, as well as to restrict the promotion of Subsys to oncologists or prescribers who treat cancer patients.

  2. Distributor McKesson Corp. paid $150 million in a civil penalty for violating the Controlled Substances Act. According to the settlement, McKesson failed to report “suspicious orders” in frequency, size, or other patterns of oxycodone and hydrocodone.

  3. Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer of oxycodone, agreed to pay $35 million to resolve federal investigations into its monitoring and reporting of suspicious orders of controlled substances.

The Future of Opioid Use

Legal and financial pressure will help redirect the bad players in the pharmaceutical industry. Fortunately, drugmakers are also motivated by opportunity. Many are working hard to find alternatives to opioids, which amount to a $4 billion market.

Centrexion Therapeutics Corp. is developing a painkiller injection, which uses synthetic capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. A mid-stage trial showed a single injection in patients’ knees brought significant relief for as long as 6 months.

Genentech is developing an oral drug based on extremely rare genetic mutations that prevent people from feeling pain. Furthermore, Cara Therapeutics Inc. and Centrexion are working on experimental drugs that target the cannabinoid receptors, mimicking the analgesic effect of marijuana.

Drug testing is a long, laborious, and expensive process. Thus, it may be years before we have effective and safe alternatives to opioids. Until then, the war on opioid addiction continues to be waged. We are hopeful that the day may come when painkiller addiction is a thing of the past.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an opioid addiction, call Impact, Inc., an organization designed to help those suffering from drug and alcohol addictions. Click the link to learn more.

Passionate Representation for Those Suffering from Opioid Addictions

Casey Law Offices, S.C. is committed to doing the right thing for our clients. Our knowledgeable dangerous drug lawyers are not afraid to take on large pharmaceutical companies, and we have helped many clients obtain financial settlements for their addictions. If you have suffered an opioid addiction due to the negligence of a drug manufacturer or distributor, our team can help. We can investigate the situation, build your case, and work hard to help you seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. With decades of legal experience, our Milwaukee dangerous drug attorneys can guide you through the process and aggressively uphold your right to a financial settlement in court.

Contact our office today for a free consultation.

Next in the series: Injured Individuals Can Help in Fight against Opioid Drug Abuse

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