Opioid Epidemic

In the late 1990s, drug companies that manufactured opioid painkiller medications assured health providers that these drugs carried no serious risks of addiction. Doctors and other healthcare providers began prescribing opioid medications – including drugs like hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and even the powerful painkiller fentanyl – at greater and greater rates.

The result of this sharp increase in the rate of opioid prescriptions has been a nationwide epidemic of dependency, abuse, addiction, and overdoses. In 2015, more than 2 million Americans suffered from a substance abuse disorder involving opioid painkillers; during that same year, roughly 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose.

As a result of the opioid crisis, prescription drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Opioid overdoses now kill more Americans per year than HIV did at the height of the HIV epidemic or than are killed each year by handguns.

In spite of efforts to curb the nationwide opioid crisis, the death count from prescription painkillers continues to rise. In 2015, roughly 2% of all deaths in the U.S. involved opioid painkillers – more than double the rate of opioid deaths in 2000.

Who are the victims of the opioid epidemic?

The opioid epidemic has been especially deadly among Americans age 20-30. In 2000, at a time when fewer Americans were becoming addicted to prescription painkillers – the most common age for drug overdose deaths was 40 years old. Over the last 20 years, as more and more young Americans have become addicted to prescription opioids, the average age for overdose deaths has fallen sharply, leading to the deaths of many more patients in their 20s or 30s.

Although the geographic distribution of the opioid crisis varies widely, some parts of the country have been hardest hit by the epidemic. The regions that have suffered the highest number of deaths from the nationwide opioid epidemic include Appalachia (West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee), the Rust Belt (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), and New England (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine).

What caused the opioid epidemic?

While opioids have always posed dangers for patients, the current crisis has occurred in large part because of the aggressive marketing of opioid medications by the drug industry. During the 1980s, a number of influential medical journals published articles that relaxed concerns among physicians about prescribing opioid medications to treat patients with long-term pain.

In response to these articles, opioid manufacturers began aggressively promoting medications like OxyContin to doctors in order to increase sales of these drugs. The increased focus on treating patients with long-term pain, combined with aggressive – sometimes fraudulent – marketing practices by opioid manufacturer, drastically increased the supply of opioid drugs in the U.S.

As the supply of opioids surged, more and more patients became dependent on or addicted to prescription painkillers. After authorities took measures to limit the supply of opioids available in the U.S., many patients resorted to “pill mills” in order to acquire larger quantities of hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other opioid painkillers. Other users resorted to illicit opioids like heroin or fentanyl in order to feed their addictions.

What legal action has been taken in response to the opioid epidemic?

Governments across the U.S. have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of opioid painkillers who illegally promoted these drugs to doctors, helping to fuel the opioid crisis.

Many of the lawsuits filed by state and local governments have involved Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin. According to lawsuits filed by attorney generals across the U.S., Purdue aggressively promoted OxyContin to doctors starting in the 1990s, helping to fuel the opioid crisis. These lawsuits have accused the company of hiding information from doctors and health officials in order to increase sales of OxyContin.

Insys Therapeutics, the manufacturer of the fentanyl sublingual spray Subsys, has also faced lawsuits over its marketing practices. According to lawsuits filed against the company, Insys paid “speakers fees” to doctors in order to encourage them to prescribe high quantities of Subsys to their patients.  Insys employees have faced allegations of fraud in connection with the company’s aggressive and illegal marketing of Subsys to doctors.

Thousands of other lawsuits have been filed across the U.S. on behalf of patients who were killed by an opioid overdose. In response to the many lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers, United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated dozens of these cases in a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Ohio. These lawsuits allege that opioid manufacturers understated their dangers of prescription painkillers, helping to fuel the opioid crisis and leading to the deaths of thousands of Americans.

Do I qualify to file a lawsuit?

If you have lost a loved one to an overdose caused by opioid painkillers, you may qualify to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the drug, the doctor or medical care center who prescribe it, or the pharmacy that issued the prescription. The first step in taking legal action is to speak with an experienced attorney who can advise you regarding your legal rights and guide you through the first steps in filing a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have handled more cases involving the powerful opioid painkiller fentanyl than all other law firms in the U.S. combined. Our attorneys have also filed lawsuits on behalf of families who have lost a loved one to an overdose caused by opioid painkillers such as morphine, methadone, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone.

For more information about filing an opioid painkillers lawsuit – and to find out whether you qualify to file a case – contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free legal consultation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few brief questions about your case to get started.