Big Pharma’s Deceitful Role in America’s Opioid Crisis

Tomorrow, barring significant changes, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 91 Americans will die from an opioid overdose. That averages out to 3 people every hour, or 637 people per week, who will lose their lives to prescription opioids. It’s almost unthinkable, and yet the evidence is in the headlines every single day.

It took millions of pain pills to cause such unfathomable, widespread devastation. The companies that manufactured, marketed and distributed these pills bear much of the responsibility for the damages their drugs have wrought on Americans.

As individuals, families and communities aim to recover from the ongoing epidemic, the companies who profit from this nightmare refuse to acknowledge the role they have played. Recent developments, however, suggest that these companies may not be able to escape justice for much longer.

Investigative Journalism Shines a Light on the Corporate Greed Driving the Opioid Crisis

Earlier this month, Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, a West Virginian newspaper, was awarded a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the drug wholesalers who have essentially sponsored the opiate epidemic our country is now battling.

“Follow the pills,” he writes, “and you’ll find the overdose deaths.” Eyre reported that between 2007 and 2012, out-of-state manufacturers pushed 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the state. As Eyre notes, this “amounts to 433 pain pills for every man, woman, and child in West Virginia.”

What were these distributors thinking? The answer: profits, and nothing else. Wholesalers made huge profits and ignored signs of addiction and over-prescription. As the death toll climbed, crime rates rose, and families were shattered by the loss of parents and children. To any rational person, the connection between an overabundance of highly-addictive drugs and the abuse of those drugs is obvious.

The manufacturers who poured addictive painkillers into pharmacies around the country believe they have nothing to answer for. Their thinking? Something along the lines of: Yes, their drugs are killing people, but so what? It’s not their responsibility.

The fact that these companies did not identify potential for abuse in their drugs is ridiculous. As Eyre notes, wholesalers shipped 9 million pills, over a two-year period, to a single pharmacy in Kermit, WV – population 392. As Eyre’s article proves, these manufacturers ignored clear signs of a growing epidemic in order to line their pockets with money gained from the deaths of Americans.

Big Pharma Mislead the Public About the Dangers of Opioids

The addictive properties of opiates are well documented, and for many years, physicians avoided prescribing them altogether. Opioids may temporarily block pain, but it has always been known that patients could develop a tolerance and potentially become addicted to these powerful drugs.

Beginning in the 1990s, however, the makers of these drugs willfully mislead the public about the dangers of opioid addiction in the interest of selling more of these drugs. Companies like Purdue, Teva, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen, and Endo funded “independent” groups that published materials and held meetings for doctors in which they promoted the use of opioids.

In this way, these companies delivered unsubstantiated claims about the safety and efficacy of opioids. And so, year by year, doctors began prescribing these drugs with dangerous frequency. Fast-forward to today: millions of pills are flooding small-towns like Kermit, people are dying, and communities have been wrecked and are struggling to recover.

Opioid Crisis Hits Home… In Your Town, USA

Last year, three counties in New York, including Suffolk County hired Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC to file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies who fraudulently marketed their drugs in order to reap increased profits. Suffolk, like many counties around America, has been hit extremely hard by the crisis.

In 2012, there were over 8,000 emergency room visits due to opioid use. Suffolk is the third county in New York represented by firm, which is currently representing counties in four other states. This number continues to grow. According to the lead attorney in the case, Paul Hanly, “There are a number [of additional counties] in the works. Our law firm has been notified by an additional 10 counties in New York, including Schenectady.”

These counties, and others across the nation, have paid a terrible price for the damage caused by prescription drug abuse. Limited county resources are stretched to the breaking point. Law enforcement must respond as addicts commit crimes to obtain opioids. Social support must be provided for families torn apart by addiction. Healthcare must be provided not only to the people who are hooked on opioids, but to babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS – an illness a newborn may suffer from after being exposed to opioids during pregnancy). The complications arising from NAS are not only dangerous, they are costly, and sometimes even tragic. According to the CDC, “In the United States, the incidence of NAS increased 383 percent during 2000–2012.”

Filing a community opioid lawsuit is a way for counties and other communities to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the devastation caused by prescription opioids.

The companies may have been able to hide the risks of opioids in their fraudulent marketing material, but it’s impossible to hide a baby born addicted to opioids. It’s time for these companies to own up to the damage they have caused. Now.

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