Are the Opioid Epidemic Class Action Suits Making a Difference?  

More Than 60 U.S. Cities are now Suing Big Pharma over the National Opioid Epidemic

Much is being done around the country in the battle against the opioid overdose crisis that’s killing so many people.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse, reports that more than 115 people in the U.S. die each day after an opioid overdose.  The magnitude of the problem is impacting the country by an estimated $78.5 billion per year based on costs for health care, lost productivity, criminal justice and addiction treatment.

Over-prescribing isn’t the only major contributor to the opioid epidemic, but Pharmaceutical companies helped to create the problem by overpromising the benefits and downplaying the risks of opioids for years, misleading healthcare professionals about their safety.  In 2016, there were 215 million opioid prescriptions in the U.S. alone.

Still more needs to be done.  That’s evident after the recent Nebraska fentanyl drug bust that was one of the largest in the U.S. and the largest in that state.  DEA agents seized 118 pounds of the synthetic pain killer that is a key factor in the nation’s opioid abuse crisis.  The amount seized was enough to kill close to 26.7 million people.

Currently, more than 60 U.S. Cities are now suing big Pharma over the opioid crisis.  A coalition of 41 attorneys general served five major opioid manufacturers with subpoenas seeking information about how they marketed and sold prescription opioids, and demanding documents and information related to distribution practices from three drug distributors.

The investigative subpoenas and document requests went to pharmaceutical manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd./Cephalon Inc. and Allergan.  Documents were also requested of major pharmaceutical distributors: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

In a January lawsuit, New York City sued several large pharmaceutical companies naming Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson, among others.  The largest city in the country saw 1,441 overdose deaths last year.

The city has become a pioneer in creating supervised injection sites for illegal drug users, part of a novel but contentious strategy to combat the epidemic of fatal overdoses caused by the use of heroin and other opioids.  Safe injection sites have been considered successful in Canada and Europe, but until now do not exist in the U.S.

Philadelphia is also suing manufacturers and distributors for their marketing practices when it came to opioids.  Even union workers there have joined the litigation after losing eight members to addiction in one year alone.  In 2016, 907 people died from overdoses in Philadelphia, more than three times the number of homicides in the city and its projected as many as 1,200 people could die from opioid-related overdoses this year, with thousands more suffering from non-deadly overdoses.

Baltimore’s lawsuit focuses largely on allegedly deceptive marketing practices.  It joined several counties in Maryland also filing suits alleging that some of these pharmaceutical companies marketed pills they knew would be “destructive of lives.”

In Florida, Palm Beach County’s lawsuit against key pharmaceutical companies states that its case is about runaway corporate greed where profits were put above the health and well-being of consumers duped into believing addictive opioid painkillers were safe.

To decrease the influence of pharmaceutical sales representatives, Chicago announced in 2016 that they would be required to obtain a license after undergoing training on ethics, marketing regulations, and related laws.  Licensure also requires sales professionals to disclose which doctors they speak to and how many times they visit them, as well as any gifts or other materials given to healthcare professionals.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, announced a lawsuit against major opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma for Violation of Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Missouri is suing Endo Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Janssen Pharmaceuticals for misrepresenting the addictive risks of opioids often using fraudulent science to back their claims, leading to a startling opioid crisis in the state.

Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ recently announced a crackdown on opioid-prescribers that will hit nearly half of the state’s doctors.  They are being flagged for not complying to the CDC’s guidelines for prescribing opioids.

Last month, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, began an investigation of the pharmaceutical industry, including two of the same companies named in A G Hawley’s lawsuit, Purdue Pharma and Janssen.  Hawley won a major court victory in the fight to hold opioid manufacturers responsible when the St. Louis Circuit Court rejected the opioid manufacturers’ attempts to halt the case and ordered the lawsuit to proceed.  Overall, there were 1,067 drug-related deaths in Missouri in 2014, an almost 400 percent increase since 1999.

So, are all of these combined efforts making even a dent in the problem?  The pressure put on by a coalition of states has started to make some real headway.  On February 11 in a major move, Purdue Pharma stopped selling OxyContin, the world’s top-selling opioid, directly to doctors.

The company announced they will cut their sales team in half, leaving them with about 200 sales representatives.  The Purdue sales team will instead focus their efforts on Symproic, a drug that treats opioid-induced constipation.  Between 2013 and 2015, healthcare professionals received $46 million from opioid manufacturers.  Purdue spent $2.9 million marketing OxyContin directly to doctors.  In 2007, the Department of Justice charged Purdue with false branding.  The company and three executives, including the president, pled guilty and agreed to a $634.5 million settlement.

Much more needs to be done in the battle against our country’s opioid epidemic, but at least this proves that facing litigation pressure, some pharmaceutical companies are making changes. Some are even sponsoring dependency prevention programs and reforming how the highly addictive pain killers are distributed and marketed.  Purdue alone faces lawsuits from more than 400 cities and 14 states alleging that they falsely marketed OxyContin and misrepresented its risks.

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SOURCE: news provided by Kara Savio