Since 1999, there has been a 300% increase in opioid prescriptions in the United States. Along with the increase in prescriptions, there’s been a deadly uptick in opioid addiction, which is now the leading cause of death in individuals under the age of 50. While many opioid abusers resort to buying illegal substances like heroin, 75% of addicts have reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug.
Now, thousands of lawsuits are being filed against doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies companies, blaming them for the catastrophic increase in opioid addiction, overdoses, and drug-related deaths in America.
Common Opioid Lawsuit Claims
Most lawsuit claims regarding opioids claim that prescription drugs were responsible for an individual’s addiction. In many cases, plaintiffs allege that their addiction started with prescription drugs and moved on to illegal opioids like heroin when their scripts ran out. Some people have reportedly resorted to criminal activity to steal or pay for more drugs.
Claims against pharmaceutical companies allege that these drug companies hid evidence of the dangers of opioids, and downplayed their highly-addictive nature. Plaintiffs also say that these companies pushed their drugs onto the market via aggressive marketing tactics, quotas for representatives, and financial kickbacks for doctors who prescribed opioids. Corporations have even been accused of creating fake third-party “advocacy” campaigns to falsely advertise the safety of their medications.
Claims against pharmacies like CVS Health mostly center on the failure to monitor and report suspicious prescriptions. These claims paint pharmacies as an accessory to the crime, making it easier for doctors to overprescribe and for corporations to benefit off these poorly regulated sales
Companies Being Sued
- Purdue Pharma LP
- Teva Pharmaceuticals (and its subsidiary, Cephalon)
- Janssen Pharmaceuticals (owned by Johnson & Johnson)
- McKesson Corporation
- Cardinal Health
- AmerisourceBergen Corp
Finally, claims against doctors go to heart of the issue: the over-prescription of these painkillers. Often, cases against doctors allege that opioids were being prescribed either for conditions where they were unnecessary (when the pain could have been managed in other ways or with other medications), or that the doctor prescribed too many refills or too high a dose to their patients.
A History of Opioid Marketing
A major aspect of opioid lawsuits is the unethical and in some cases illegal aggressive marketing tactics used by pharmaceutical corporations to increase sales and profits. For example, in 2012, 793 million doses of opioids were prescribed in Ohio. That’s enough to give every man, woman and child in the state more than 60 of the addictive pills each.
One of the states suing Purdue Pharma, New Jersey, filed a 100-page complaint claiming the company used manipulative marketing tactics. The company repeatedly backed claims that its drugs were safe for long-term use, even longer than the 12-week treatment times for which it was approved.
An investigation by the state found more evidence of unethical practices. Purdue was requiring their representatives to visit upwards of eight different doctors, five days a week, effectively “blanketing” the state. Plus, the reps were paid based on quotas, like a commission on a retail seller. In this case, however, these quotas weren’t couches or new TVs, but prescriptions for drugs like OxyContin. The Attorney General’s office for NJ estimated each drug representative was responsible for about 500-700 prescriptions per month.
Other practices, like financial kickbacks for prescribing doctors, have also been called out by the lawsuits against opioid manufacturers. These incentives drive doctors to prescribe opioids for longer lengths of time than recommended, or for conditions like chronic pain, where their use may be both unnecessary and inappropriate.
Who are the Plaintiffs in Opioid Lawsuits?
While an opioid lawsuit can be filed by anyone, the individual victims are rarely the plaintiffs. Most commonly, plaintiffs are the families of victims, who have often died as a result of their addiction. Plaintiffs can also be cities, counties or even states that have suffered economic ramifications from the opioid epidemic.
Individuals and Families
Individuals and families have filed thousands of opioid lawsuits, both against doctors and corporations. Many of these are in response to the loss of a loved one to an overdose. Common claims that individuals and families make include:
- That drug companies falsely advertised their medications as safe, underplaying the risks of addiction.
- That doctors are prescribing unnecessary opioids, and in some cases, not recognizing the signs of drug abuse in patients.
- That pharmacies for over-distributing, and lack proper monitoring/reporting for those who have become victims to addiction.
In recent years, these complaints have come to fruition, especially as news media has pushed the issue to the forefront of political and social debates. Tragically, the most noteworthy stories are those of families who lost a loved one to an overdose.
Recent Headlines in Opioid Lawsuits
|The estates of Philip Patrick Hickman, Carrie Lynne Huff and Pamela Cowger (all deceased)||Dr. Edita Milan||Dr. Milan is charged with consistently over-prescribing opioids to her patients, and disregarding protocols to help avoid addiction. All three patients in this case died from overdoses.|
|Mother of Charles P. Reichenbach II (deceased)||Dr. Yee C. Ho, Allegany County Hospital||Reichenbach was brought to the emergency room with a suspected overdose. The lab found opioids and alcohol in his blood tests. Despite this, Dr. Ho prescribed the patient both oxycodone and a fentanyl patch. Reichenbach died less than 24 hours later from an overdose with these drugs|
|Mrs. Moyers, wife of Bret Moyers (deceased)||Lake Hospital System, Dr. Nancy Rodway||In response to a work-related injury, Moyers was prescribed opioids for 5 years. The claim argues that Rodway was over-prescribing, and neglected to spot or treat signs of addiction. The suit also claims that the hospital’s policies failed to create or adhere to opioid prescribing policies, in response to the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania.|
|Family of Justin Lenz (deceased)||Dr. Michael Belfiore||Lenz began seeing Belfiore in 2009 for chronic back pain. In 2012, after being prescribed 60 1-mg Xanax tablets and 120 30-mg Oxycodone tablets, the patient overdosed and died. VERDICT: In this case, Dr. Belfiore was found liable for his prescribing actions. Part of the money awarded went to Lenz’s daughter, who was just 8 ½ at the time of his death.|
|Family of Sarah Fuller (deceased)||Insys Therapeutics, Linden Care (pharmacy), and Dr. Vivienne Matalon||The basis of this case was that Fuller was prescribed Subsys, an opioid that was approved for breakthrough cancer pain, despite the fact that she did not have cancer. Fuller had in fact been in 2 car accidents. After a being prescribed a high dose of Subsys, FUller was hospitalized for “hyper sedation.” She was taken off the med, and told to wean off of oxycontin. Still, Dr. Matalon prescribed Subsys again. Fuller died of an overdose in 2016. Matalon’s medical license was suspended, while the medical board investigates her actions.|
Compensation can help cover funeral costs, or serve as remuneration for pain and suffering. Or, as in the case of Mr. Lenz’s daughter, can help the children of these victims as they grow up.
Cities & Counties
Over 100 opioid lawsuits have been filed by municipalities and counties. Most of these are filed against large pharmaceutical corporations, though some call out “influential doctors” who either prescribed the highest amount of opioids in the state, or published or participated in studies funded by the companies.
These claims are filed in the hopes of offsetting the massive costs of handling the epidemic, which are estimated at over $55 billion across the nation per year. Whether through a jury verdict or a settlement, these legal entities would use the damages to cover:
- Increased expenses of drug treatment programs, including building of new treatment centers
- Reimbursing hospitals, Medicaid and other agencies
- Increases in the need for ambulances and EMTs
- Costs of the increased need for law enforcement
- Costs of prosecutions and jail time
State Attorneys General
Too often, prescription opioids are the on-ramp to addiction for millions of Americans.
As of November, 2017, forty-one states have joined in a coalition to investigate drugmakers, including Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo International plc, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd./Cephalon Inc., and Allergan Inc. A supplemental investigation has been launched against Purdue Pharma.
The coalition is also investigating opioid drug distributors who make about $500 billion in revenue each year. “Too often, prescription opioids are the on-ramp to addiction for millions of Americans,” said Attorney General Schneiderman, who represents New York in the coalition.
A previous investigation by the State of Illinois found that “drug companies pressure physicians into prescribing powerful, addictive drugs without regard for the law or patients’ well-being,” according to Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan.
Why File an Opioid Lawsuit?
Individuals and families suing in an opioid lawsuit may be eligible for damages that can cover:
- Treatment expenses for an addict, including rehabilitation, drug-related hospitalizations, and the cost of Naloxone (also known as NARCAN, the antidote for overdoses).
- Legal expenses, from previous arrests or trials related to the addiction.
- Loss of income, resulting from missed work, withdrawal symptoms, or time in a treatment center.
- Funeral costs, in the tragic case of a loved one lost to an overdose.
- Pain and suffering for the addict and their family.
If you or your family have been affected by opioid addiction, or if you believe you were wrongly prescribed an opioid medication, talk to a lawyer to discuss your legal options.
Opioid Lawsuit Settlements
Mallinckrodt Plc — $35 million — April 3, 2017 — Mallinckrodt Plc agreed to pay to resolve an investigation into their monitoring and reporting methods for suspicious orders of controlled substances. This was the first time a manufacturer was targeted in this type of investigation.
Costco Wholesale — $11.75 million — January 19, 2017 — This investigation ended in a settlement over claims that Costco had irresponsibly filled improper or incomplete prescriptions. Some of the prescriptions even lacked valid DEA numbers.
McKesson Corporation — $150 million — January 17, 2017 — McKesson agreed to pay the $150 million civil penalty after it was found to have violated the Controlled Substances Act. According to the charges, McKesson had failed to report suspicious orders of controlled drugs.
Cardinal Health Inc.— $20 million — January 9, 2017 — This was a settlement between the pharmacy company and the state of West Virginia, regarding a failure to report suspicious orders. A separate lawsuit is still underway for McDowell County, one of the counties in WV most impacted by the opioid epidemic.
Cardinal Health — $40 million — December 23, 2016 — This settlement also addressed questions that the distributor had violated the Controlled Substances Act. Like McKesson, they had failed to report suspicious orders. There was also scrutiny over the company’s record keeping, and whether it violated the Act as well.
Purdue Pharma — $24 million — December 23, 2015 — This payment settled a lawsuit that was filed in 2007 by the state of Kentucky against the maker of OxyContin. The claim cited that Purdue had marketed their drug as safe, especially because it was designed to release slowly. However, addicts found that the pills could be crushed for a quicker release, a discovery which fueled the rapid growth of the opioid epidemic in Kentucky.