Opioid Litigation May Be Biggest News Story in 2018

The ever-increasing number of opioid overdose deaths (over 64,000 in 2016) in cities across the United States has resulted in cities, counties and states turning to the courts. A few years ago, there were a mere handful of opioid-related lawsuits, but since that time the spiraling opioid crisis has resulted in a flood claims which allege drug manufacturing and distribution companies have improperly marketed opioids, as well as failed to report large orders which most would find suspicious.

As of December 2017, more than 200 civil cases had been filed by local governments in federal courts, while dozens of additional opioid lawsuits are playing out in state courts. Attorneys general from 41 states have even joined together to explore the legal options of the states.

Pharmaceutical Company Believes There is No Comparison Between Opioid Litigation and Tobacco Litigation

Dozens of lawyers met in Cleveland in early January where a judge will oversee at least 189 of the federal cases. Many feel this is an indication that the legal opioid battle is going to begin moving quickly, with some equating the opioid lawsuits to the tobacco lawsuits in the 1990’s. Who can forget the sight of the drug company CEO’s testifying that they did not believe cigarettes were addictive.

It comes as no surprise that the drug manufacturers and distributors say they will defend their companies vigorously, overall denying the claims made in the current lawsuits. In fact, one spokesperson for Purdue Pharma, the company who developed OxyContin, said there was no comparison between the current opioid litigation and the tobacco litigation, because “our medicines are approved by the FDA, prescribed by doctors, and dispensed by pharmacists…” What they did not say is that they violate state and federal laws which limit the distribution of the drugs.

Time to Force Drug Manufacturers to Change Marketing Tactics?

Since the first lawsuit was filed, many more states, counties and cities have joined in—well over 200. Because the opioid epidemic begins with legal, prescription drug, it requires a different approach than those commonly used with illegal drugs, even though about 75 percent of all those who enter heroin addiction treatment received their first opioid through a legal prescription.

Although many different states have attempted to stop the use of opioids time after time, when prescription painkillers are unavailable, many opioid addicts resort to illegal drugs, primarily heroin, which is readily available. Unfortunately, two additional drugs, carfentanil and fentanyl, are used by some when heroin or prescription painkillers are unavailable, and these drugs can be as much as 50 times more potent than prescription painkillers.

Many of those who resort to these two drugs end up overdosing the very first time they use the drug because they do not understand just how strong the drugs are. In addition to the more than 200 current lawsuits, information is now being subpoenaed from J & J, Teva, Allergan and Endo. Purdue Pharma, as well as drug distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen have all been subject to requests for additional information.

At present, all the cases filed are civil, and most of the state, county and municipal entities are asking for financial compensation to help cover the losses incurred from fighting the opioid epidemic. There is also a strong push to force drug manufacturers to change their marketing tactics, making sure consumers understand how addictive the prescription painkillers can be.

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