Americans did not take billions of addictive opioid pills by accident. At every level of the pharmaceutical supply chain, from pharma executives to pharmacy managers, people who had a responsibility to look out for patients did not. Profits were maximized. Tough questions were not asked. Red flags were buried.
New York City has added pharmacy retailers CVS, Walgreens, WalMart and Rite Aid to the list of defendants in a lawsuit that already includes pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. Many plaintiffs in opioid lawsuits are amending their complaints to include these retailers because they failed to monitor the drugs sold out of their pharmacy windows.
The city also included the Sacklers, an American family that controls the notorious Purdue Pharma, which made a fortune flooding the country with easily abused prescription narcotics. Purdue Pharma released OxyContin in 1995, and it quickly became one of the deadliest prescription drugs in U.S. history.
Opioid Lawsuits Will Hold Companies Accountable for Damages of Epidemic
Every day, nearly 200 Americans die from overdoses. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), around 68 percent of drug deaths in 2017 involved an opioid. Families and communities have shared in the pain and costs of this epidemic, and now they are fighting for justice by holding accountable the companies who profited from the disaster.
So far, there are over 1,500 lawsuits that have been consolidated under the National Prescription Opiate Litigation (NPOL). Plaintiffs in the NPOL now include cities, counties, states, Native American tribes, labor unions, hospitals and the federal government.
While the specifics vary in each case, the common allegations are that defendants’ actions led directly to the abuse of prescription drugs in their community. Many companies have already been named in the NPOL, such as:
- Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)
- Insys Therapeutics
- Amerisource Bergen
- McKesson Corporation
- Cardinal Health
CVS has called being named as a defendant to be “without merit,” and has made attempts to paint themselves as not responsible for failures to safeguard against drug abuse. They maintain that they have systems in place preventing drugs from being diverted illegally or being over-prescribed. And yet, in 2015, CVS paid $22 million for the unlawful distribution of controlled substances.
Dan Polster, the judge overseeing the NPOL, does not believe anyone involved in the chain of businesses is free of responsibility. “It is accurate to describe the opioid epidemic as a man-made plague, 20 years in the making,” wrote Judge Dan Polster in an order that refused drug companies’ request to dismiss opioid lawsuits.
Who Are the Sacklers?
Members of the multibillionaire Sackler family have always had tight control of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and other painkillers. In 2007, Purdue and three of its senior executives were hit with $635 million in fines for misleading marketing after pleading guilty to those charges. Veteran trial lawyer Paul Hanly Jr., of Simmons Hanly Conroy, who now co-leads on the NPOL, provided the U.S. Department of Justice with key evidence leading to the 2007 guilty plea.
Purdue pledged to cease intentionally misleading doctors and patients about the safety of its drugs. The Sacklers were not charged in the 2007 case, and under their control, Purdue continued to peddle misinformation about opioids in order to keep making millions.
The Sacklers and Purdue were in possession of evidence that OxyContin and other narcotics were being abused. Instead of alerting the public, they capitalized on patients’ addictions.
Confidential documents brought to light in a Massachusetts lawsuit reveal how Purdue, under the control of the Sacklers, only redoubled efforts to push OxyContin after the 2007 guilty plea. The aggressive and deceptive marketing of prescription narcotics has continued right up to present day.
How Aggressive Marketing Led to Prescription Opioid Deaths
In the cases described in the Massachusetts complaint, Purdue would routinely reward doctors who over-prescribed their pills. One such doctor prescribed 347,000 of their pills from 2008 until he lost his license in 2012. Purdue sales reps visited him over 100 times, encouraging him to prescribe even more pills at higher dosages.
The higher dosages are more profitable, but also more dangerous. Instead of recognizing the warning signs, Purdue treated these “top target” doctors like cash cows. They deliberately used sales reps and money to nurture doctors who freely prescribed their drug. According to the Massachusetts complaint:
“Compared to Massachusetts doctors and nurses who prescribed Purdue opioids without seeing reps, Purdue’s top targets were at least ten times more likely to prescribe Purdue opioids to patients who overdosed and died.”
Purdue had a responsibility to identify suspicious physicians and stop them. They had an opportunity to nip opioid abuse in the bud. These dangerous doctors were rewarded by Purdue instead of being reprimanded and cut off from their ability to prescribe these dangerous drugs. The body count tells the rest of the story.
Judge Polster is right: the opioid epidemic is a “man-made plague.” Everyone who was in a position to respond to the crisis and did not played a role in the destruction that has captured the headlines for 20 years. Hopefully it will take less time to bring them all to justice.