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Opioid Legal Roundup
Lots of court action underway as states seek $billions in damages from drug makers
In the highly specialized world of medical treatment of substance abuse, we here at Novus are pretty much focused on just one thing — providing the very best medical drug and alcohol detox in the world to our patients. They expect, and they receive, nothing less.
But now and then, the ‘noise’ in the news media about the growing substance abuse epidemic in America catches our attention. And that’s the case now, as several billion-dollar suits filed against the makers of prescription opioid painkillers threaten to change forever the way the American medical system treats pain.
The way we see it, there’s never been anything quite like this in the history of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. There’ve been plenty of individual patient and class action patient lawsuits over the years brought against numerous drug makers.
But the legal scene right now is without precedent, because instead of irate patients, suits claiming damages are being brought by a major American city and at least two states.
A few months ago, we reported about unprecedented legal cases brought against five of the largest narcotic painkiller pharmaceutical companies in the world, including:
- Endo Health Solutions Inc.
- Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals
- Purdue Pharma
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ Cephalon Inc.
The suits were filed in May by two California municipalities, Santa Clara County and Orange County, on behalf of the entire state of California. They accuse the named drug companies of creating the nation’s prescription drug epidemic by “waging a campaign of deception” to boost sales of their dangerously addictive opioid painkillers.
Next, in June, the City of Chicago joined the fray, filing its own lawsuit, similar to the California suit, and against the same companies. It also alleges that the drug makers overstated the benefits of opioid painkillers and deceived the public and the medical profession about the actual dangers of dependence, addiction and sudden overdose deaths.
According to Bloomberg News, the city is seeking an unspecified amount for damages, claiming that since 2007, the city has had to cover the costs of nearly 400,000 insurance claims for opioid prescriptions costing nearly $9,500,000, and has suffered “additional damages for the costs of providing and using opiates long-term to treat chronic non-cancer pain.”
The most recent development comes from the state of Kentucky, beleaguered for over a decade by a crushing epidemic of prescription opioid abuse involving just one brand, Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin. The situation in Kentucky, particularly the rural and coal-mining region called Appalachia, is considered the worst prescription opioid epidemic anywhere in the nation.
Bloomberg News reported that Purdue has successfully fended off “more than 400 personal-injury lawsuits related to the drug. And while it has settled some product-liability cases related to OxyContin under secret terms, Purdue has defeated more than 10 efforts to wage class-actions against it.”
Of course, Purdue’s successful defenses against personal injury suits didn’t help them a few years ago, when the company and several of its executives were found guilty in Federal Court of criminal charges related to false marketing claims and illegal marketing tactics involving OxyContin, especially the company’s claims that OxyContin was “difficult to abuse” when in fact, almost overnight, it became the most-abused prescription drug — and the deadliest — in the country.
The company was fined a total of nearly $600 million by the Department of Justice, with the participation of several states sharing some of the fine. Three executives, the president, top lawyer and chief medical officer, were fined a total of $34.5 million. It was the highest corporate fine ever levied against an American company. Legal experts at the time expressed some surprise that the executives escaped jail time.
Bloomberg says the new Kentucky lawsuit has become Purdue’s “legal nightmare — one that the company says could result in a catastrophic $1 billion judgment against it, based on the state’s allegations as well as the potential for punitive damages and pre- and post-judgment interest.”
Purdue’s Chief Financial Officer Edward Mahony said in an affidavit that such a ruling would cripple Purdue’s operations “and jeopardize Purdue’s long-term viability.”
The drugs made or marketed by these companies include most popular brand-name opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Opana, Duragesic and many others, along with many generic narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and others.
With the other lawsuits filed in Chicago and California, which all include Purdue as well as the other drug makers, “the Kentucky case could trigger more litigation along the lines of the suits that cost Big Tobacco billions in the 1990s,” Bloomberg concluded. It’s been suggested elsewhere that several other states are already considering suits of their own.
Meanwhile, a federal judge recently tossed out of court a legal attempt by the state of Massachusetts to ban a new hydrocodone painkiller, Zohydro ER, from being sold in the state. The judge’s ruling that such decisions can only be made at the federal level effectively ended similar lawsuits being considered by several other states. All the states claimed the new painkiller was not only unnecessary — there’s no shortage of opioid painkillers anywhere in this country — but that it threatened to expand the already epidemic levels of dependence, addiction and overdose deaths in their regions.
Where all these legal maneuverings are going to lead no one knows. But one thing is certain: the rift between the pros and cons of prescription opioids continues to grow ever larger.
On one hand are the medical experts and countless patients who insist there is a very real need for opioid painkillers, under special circumstances such as chronic pain and end-of-life cancer pain.
On the other hand are countless American victims of prescription opioid dependence, addiction, loss of family members and ruined careers and lives, as well as some medical people. They insist that the actual prescription opioid scene is miles from the “special circumstances” originally set aside for such drugs. They say opioid meds are being handed out far too freely by doctors everywhere, and in fact have become an accepted way to get high at parties by teenagers and young adults, who view prescription meds as little different than a few cans of beer or belts of hard liquor.
Remember the medical TV series “House” on the Fox network? The star of the show, Dr. Gregory House (played by actor Hugh Laurie) spent 8 full seasons hopelessly addicted to Vicodin, the hydrocodone-based painkiller. We rooted for the brilliant doctor as he tried, over and over, to kick the crippling habit — even after he was arrested for writing phony Vicodin prescriptions for himself, was sentenced to treatment, and wound up in rather bad shape indeed.
The show House was true to form as far as the addictive potential of Vicodin is concerned, though. Vicodin is one of the most abused painkillers in the country — possibly the most abused hydrocodone medication next to generic hydrocodone itself, which tops the national list for both sales and abuse.
Yet for some reason the maker of Vicodin, Abbot Labs (now AbbVie) didn’t make the list on any of the lawsuits. We’re not saying they should have, just making a comment on the wide acceptance in this country of prescription opioid addiction.
As we said at the outset, here at Novus we’re fully committed to our patients’ need for the best medical detoxification protocols available anywhere in the country. Whether it’s Vicodin or any of the myriad other prescription opioids that are causing trouble, we are the experts at not just effective but also surprisingly comfortable opioid detox.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from dependence or addiction to prescription opioids, don’t hesitate to call us and get all your questions answered. We’re always here and ready to help.
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