Opioid Epidemic Injury Lawsuits. In the United States, it is well known that there is an opioid problem. Thousands of individuals overdose and die because of opioid medications every year. The opioids have cost people of all ages their lives, and opioids have also cost cities, towns, states, and the country as a whole, several billions of dollars in economic damages. The need for a stronger law enforcement presence in many areas has been expensive, and, in addition, many jurisdictions have opened drug rehabilitation facilities to try to help residents overcome opioid addiction. However, opioid addiction is still rampant in communities throughout the country.
Why are opioids so addictive?
Opioid is a broad term that includes a number of substances, including heroin. Legal prescription drugs, such as morphine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and similar medications are also opioids.
Opioids work by interacting with opioid receptors in nerve cells. When these substances bind with the nerve cells, the user experiences a feeling of pleasure. The opioids also alleviate any pain the user may be experiencing.
An addiction is created when the user continually seeks a reward or feeling of relief from using a particular substance or engaging in certain behaviors.
In 2015, it was estimated that 20.5 million Americans over the age of 12 had a substance abuse disorder. Around 2 million abused prescription painkillers, and approximately 591,000 used heroin. One figure estimates that nearly one-quarter of individuals who abuse heroin also develop an addiction to opioids.
The number one cause of accidental death in the United States is an overdose on drugs. In 2015, there were 52,404 fatal drug overdoses. That same year, 20,101 overdose deaths were attributed to prescription painkillers, and another 12,990 were tied to heroin. From 1998 to 2008, there were noticeable increases in the sale of prescription pain relievers, admissions to pain reliever abuse treatment facilities, and overdose death rates. By 2008, the fatal overdose rate had nearly quadrupled since 1999. The sale of prescription painkillers in 2010 had quadrupled since 1999, and admission to substance abuse treatment centers had increased by six-fold from 1999 to 2009.
In 2012, the number of prescriptions written for opioids was astounding—259 million were written by physicians throughout the United States. That is enough for every single American adult to have his or her own bottle of bills.
Heroin users often use opioid painkillers first. In fact, some switch to heroin because prescription opioid painkillers are “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”
Which groups are especially impacted by opioid addiction?
Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are especially susceptible to opioid addiction. In 2015, 276,000 minors in this age group were using pain relievers illicitly. It is estimated that around 122,000 were addicted to prescription painkillers. Additionally, that same year, roughly 21,000 adolescents admitted to using heroin. Around 5,000 currently used the substance. Approximately 6,000 adolescents abused heroin in 2014.
Many adolescents who begin abusing prescription painkillers obtain them from a friend or relative. These adolescents may be given a pill to help with pain, for example. Sharing unused painkillers is quite common, as many people are unaware as to how dangerous this practice can be.
In addition to adolescents, women are another subgroup largely affected by the opioid epidemic. Women suffer from chronic pain more than men do, and they are more likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers—and in higher doses. Some posit that women are more likely to become dependent on opioid pain relievers as compared to men. Between 1999 and 2010, around 48,000 women died from prescription painkiller overdoses. That’s an average of 12 women per day.
Who is to blame for the opioid epidemic?
There are a number of individuals and entities involved in the opioid epidemic. Pharmaceutical companies produce opioid pain relievers. Doctors prescribe them. Pharmacists fill them. Consumers take them. Therefore, who is really at fault for the opioid crisis, if anyone can truly be to blame?
In many jurisdictions, lawsuits have been filed against the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture prescription opioid pain relievers. These lawsuits allege that the pharmaceutical companies were aware of the addictive nature of opioids but intentionally misled physicians and consumers about them. In some cases, the pharmaceutical companies are accused of providing kickbacks to physicians that prescribed their medications. Some pharmaceutical companies are even accused of engaging in fraudulent behavior. One company, Insys Therapeutics, is accused of directing its employees to call insurance companies to obtain approval for prescriptions. The Insys Therapeutics employees are accused of pretending to be representatives from doctors’ offices and persuading insurance adjusters to approve claims for certain opioid medications. Such behavior would clearly be egregious, and lawsuits are pending against the company. Some of the company’s executives have been charged with crimes as well.
Some of these pharmaceutical companies seek to avoid liability by shifting blame to the physicians that prescribe the medications. Some doctors have even been charged with murder. For example, in Texas, a doctor has been charged with illegally distributing opioid pain relievers and is accused of causing at least seven deaths. In Oklahoma, one physician has been charged with five second-degree murder charges after he prescribed excessive amounts of the substances. The first conviction for murder that stemmed from prescribing painkillers occurred in 2015. That doctor, Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Teng received a sentence of 30 years to life in prison.
In addition, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has increasingly penalized doctors for overprescribing opioid pain relievers. In 2011, DEA went after 88 doctors. In 2016, it disciplined 479 physicians.
However, others argue that consumers must be liable for their own actions. After all, it is the consumer’s choice to abuse prescription pills, instead of taking them as prescribed. Or, it is the consumer’s choice to find prescription pills on the black market, where they may be laced with other dangerous substances. Still, there may be an argument that some consumers were pushed into addiction by being prescribed highly addictive substances that they did not truly need.
The opioid epidemic has killed thousands of Americans, and more are dying every day. The public could certainly use better education about these substances and their dangerous qualities. Some are stronger than morphine. One substance, fentanyl, is far deadlier than heroin—only a fraction of the amount of heroin needed to cause a fatal overdose is necessary with fentanyl.
Those with leftover opioid medications should dispose of them properly to prevent others from abusing them. Many pharmacies and law enforcement centers have programs that allow consumers to safely get rid of their leftover medications. Rather than risk these potent medications getting into the wrong hands or leaching into the environment (which often occurs when medications are flushed), these patients can take them to these facilities and ensure that they are properly handled. To find these programs in your area, simply search for medication take-back programs or prescription disposal boxes.
If you or a loved one was injured by opioid drugs, contact Parker Waichman LLP Today
At Parker Waichman LLP, our attorneys hold pharmaceutical companies and physicians responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic. To schedule your free consultation with our legal team, call 1-800-YOUR-LAWYER (1-800-968-7529).
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