More than 700,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2017. Roughly 10% of those deaths occurred in 2017 alone, and about 68% of the overdose deaths that year involved an opioid. Currently, opioid overdose claims the lives of an average of 130 Americans each day. Even when opioid addiction does not turn deadly, it can lead to the loss of one’s job or family or other effects that can destroy one’s life.
Opioid addiction is unique from other drug epidemics in recent history because the addiction often begins with medical treatment. Unfortunately, medical professionals may act carelessly when prescribing or distributing the drugs. If you or a loved one have undergone a tremendous loss and believe it may have been caused by opioids, speak with a knowledgeable attorney to discuss whether an opioid lawsuit is an option.
Opioid side effects
Opioid drugs are often prescribed for pain. They operate by binding to opioid receptors on brain cells and throughout the body. The body contains natural opioids like endorphins, and opioid drugs can attach to their receptors and increase their effects.
The intended effect of opioid drugs is to block sensations of pain. However, they can also produce an intense feeling of pleasure, causing them to be highly addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 21-29 percent of patients who receive prescriptions for opioids to treat chronic pain misuse the medications. In some cases, a patient can become addicted in only a few weeks’ time and experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping the medication.
Opioids can also produce unwanted effects, including:
- Dry mouth
- Headache or mental fogginess
- Hormonal imbalance
- Weak bones
- Constipation, in some cases so severe it leads to bowel perforation
- Irregular heartbeat
- Respiratory depression
Opioid withdrawal can produce additional symptoms, including:
- Watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose
- Sweats or chills
- Body aches
- Cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Irritability, anxiety, or depression
Unfortunately, some manufacturers admitted too late that they misrepresented just how addictive these drugs are. Even in the course of their intended medicinal use, addiction- and withdrawal-related symptoms can occur.
FDA action related to opioid drugs
Federal regulation of opioids goes back over a century to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which predated the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The original Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed in order to protect the public from additives in food and from pharmaceuticals that were unidentified or presented as healthy without supporting research. A driving issue leading to its passage was the inclusion of morphine in medicines marketed to treat children. The Act required manufacturers to indicate the presence and quantity of morphine on the drug labels.
The types of opioids available in the United States has evolved over the decades and the FDA has approved the continuously changing formulations, including short-acting combination drugs like Percocet in the 1960s and 1970s, long-acting formulations of older products like morphine in the 1980s, and opioids alleged to have abuse-deterring properties beginning around 2010.
As the number of opioid-related deaths and complications has drastically risen, the FDA has developed what it refers to as a comprehensive action plan with the intention of blunting the impact of opioid abuse. It includes:
- Expanded use of advisory committees to review new drug applications for opioids without abuse-deterrent properties and to make recommendations for a framework to guide pediatric opioid labeling
- Developing changes to warning and safety information for immediate-release opioids
- Requiring more extensive post-market data
- Support development of abuse-deterrent formulations
- Increase access to treatment
- Improve risk management
Manufacturers and other defendants at the center of opioids lawsuits
The opioid epidemic has a complex web of parties. Pharmaceutical companies develop and make the drugs. Healthcare companies distribute the drugs, and doctors prescribe the drugs.
Several pharmaceutical companies are potentially liable for a significant number of opioid-related injuries and death:
- Abbot Labs
- Endo Pharmaceuticals
- Johnson & Johnson
- Purdue Pharma
- Watson Pharmaceuticals
Lawsuits allege that the manufacturers misrepresented the risks of opioids in the late 1990s – even paying some doctors as “key opinion leaders” to promote their widespread use – leading medical professionals to willingly prescribe them.
The major distributors, responsible for an approximate 80% of the opioids in the United States, include:
- AmerisourceBergen Corp.
- Cardinal Health, Inc.
- McKesson Corp.
The distributors are accused of failing to monitor or control what should have been the suspicious flow of opioids into states.
Opioid litigation is currently ongoing in courts in more than 30 states across the country. In some cases, the plaintiffs are individuals and families. In other cases, they are states, cities, counties, hospitals, third-party payors, and even Native American tribes.
In December 2007, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated approximately 200 pending lawsuits in multidistrict litigation in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, in Cleveland. The litigation has now grown to roughly 2,000 lawsuits, which name manufacturers, distributors, and doctors who served as “key opinion leaders.” In multidistrict litigation, each plaintiff pursues their own lawsuit but the cases are combined for pre-trial management. The first trial in the Cleveland opioids MDL is scheduled for October 21, 2019.
With the number of cases and courts involved, the best thing to do is speak with an opioids injury lawyer to determine where and when to file a lawsuit.
Opioid lawsuit settlement amounts
Opioid litigation is in a relatively early stage; though thousands of lawsuits are pending, very few have yet been resolved.
In spring 2019, several opioid manufacturers settled cases with the State of Oklahoma. Under a March settlement, Purdue Pharma – manufacturer of OxyContin – agreed to pay a historic $270 million. In late May, Israeli generic drug maker Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay $85 million. Oklahoma also has a case pending against Johnson & Johnson which is headed to trial in spring 2019.
Discuss your opioid injury case with Showard Law Firm
If you or someone you love took opioid drugs and suffered from injuries or even wrongful death, speak with a law firm that understands. At Showard Law Firm, we use our experience with dangerous drug litigation to pursue justice for those who have been hurt by pharmaceutical companies and others in the medical industry. No matter where you are located in the U.S., call or contact us to schedule a free consultation.
Additional opioids litigation resources:
- FDA, Opioid Medications, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/opioid-medications
- NCBI, Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic: Balancing Societal and Individual Benefits and Risks of Prescription Opioid Use, 6 Opioid Approval and Monitoring by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458654/
- University of Michigan Medical School, What Is an Opioid?, https://medicine.umich.edu/dept/pain-research/what-opioid
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Understanding the Epidemic, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
- The New York Times, Lawsuits Lay Bare Sackler Family’s Role in Opioid Crisis, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/01/health/sacklers-oxycontin-lawsuits.html