Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions across the U.S. In addition to illicit opioids such as heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and opioid pain relievers such as hydrocodone, codeine and numerous others have contributed to the wave of addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of opioid pills that were sold by drug manufacturers to pharmacies and doctors almost quadrupled from 1999 to 2010 even though studies did not show a corresponding increase in the amount of reported pain by Americans during the same period.
The prescription drug abuse epidemic has touched many families across the country. The CDC reports that an average of 91 people dies each day from opioid overdoses. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that more than 52,000 people died as a result of opioid overdoses in 2015 alone. Of those deaths, 20,101 resulted from prescription opioid overdoses. Municipalities, counties and states have started to respond to this national problem by retaining opioid lawyers and filing lawsuits against some of the manufacturers and drug wholesalers of these drugs because of their sales and marketing practices. Through such litigation, the plaintiffs may be able to help halt the spread of opioid addiction. Families whose loved ones have died because of overdoses of opioids might also be able to seek relief through mass tort litigation against the manufacturers and wholesalers who are responsible with the help of opioid lawyers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are drugs that block pain pathways in the brain. When people take opioids, they may experience relief from moderate to severe pain because the drug molecules bind to opioid receptor sites that are located in the brain, blocking the pain signals. These drugs also cause a feeling of euphoria, leading many people to use them recreationally. Because of the how they work, opioids change the manner in which the brain functions and have a large potential for addiction.
Prescription opioids can lead to addiction and death even when the people who are taking them were prescribed these drugs by their doctors. Since they are prescription medications, many people mistakingly believe that they are safe. However, the addictive potential of these drugs may lead people to take more than they are prescribed and to turn to illicit opioids such as heroin to feed their addictions. These drugs modify the reward system of the brain, and the CDC reports that up to 25 percent of all people who are legally prescribed opioids develop addictions to them.
Why opioid overdoses can be fatal
Opioids slow breathing and interfere with the regulation of oxygen intake and the expulsion of carbon dioxide in the brain stem. When people take too many opioids, they may die because of the depression of their respiration. When respiration is depressed, the brain cannot get sufficient oxygen to function, and death can result. The amount of opioids that may cause overdoses varies, depending on the type of opiate, its strength, the individual’s weight, age and biochemistry. Some people may also suffer opioid overdoses because of their interactions with other medications that they are taking.
Opioid overdose risk factors
People may accidentally overdose on opioids. There are multiple factors that increase the risk of suffering an overdose. Some of the more common scenarios that our overdose addiction lawyers have encountered include the following:
- People who are taking one of the three medications that cause the most overdoses, including hydrocodone
- People who are prescribed high doses of opioids
- People who are taking fentanyl
- People who have been taking opioids on a long-term basis
- People who take opioids and benzodiazepines, which both act on the central nervous system
- People who are prescribed or who take opioids for off-label purposes
- People who supplement their prescribed doses with other opioids or heroin
If your loved one has suffered an opioid overdose, opioid addiction lawyers may be able to help you to hold those who are responsible accountable by filing lawsuits.
Proving liability in opioid overdose cases
Proving liability in opioid overdose cases can be difficult. Individual plaintiffs may have issues with convincing juries to hold the defendants liable because their loved ones took the medications or drugs themselves. However, by filing mass tort lawsuits, it may be possible to hold the drug wholesalers and manufacturers liable for contributing to the problem of abuse and addiction of the products that they have introduced in the market. According to NPR, a coalition of 41 states is currently investigating the drug manufacturers who have supplied opioids to their markets. Multiple states, municipalities and counties have filed lawsuits against the companies, and more are sure to follow.
Pharmaceutical companies and drug wholesalers may argue that the victims were at fault in causing their own harms by not taking the drugs as prescribed. However, opioid lawyers might hold the companies liable if their warnings were inadequate or if they used illegal marketing strategies to unload more drugs on the market in order to reap profits.
The potential for mass tort litigation against the drug companies and drug wholesalers who manufacture and sell opioid medications may exist because of the precedent that was set by the mass tort litigation against Big Tobacco in the 1990s. In 1998, the tobacco companies entered into the largest-ever settlement in a civil litigation case. Tobacco users died after using the products that they were sold as they were intended. In cases against the pharmaceutical companies, however, liability may depend on showing that the companies violated other duties since most overdoses result in using the medications in ways for which they are not intended.
Drug manufacturers and wholesalers have a duty to divert shipments of drugs when they are suspicious under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. They also have a duty to provide adequate warnings of their side effects, risks and the potential for addiction. Many doctors report that the drug companies downplayed the risk of addiction to these drugs when the companies were marketing them. In one case involving Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, the company settled a lawsuit against it for $600 million in 2007. Three of its top executives also pleaded guilty to criminal charges. The company had misled doctors about the addictive potential of OxyContin by falsely claiming that its time-release formula made it less addictive than other opioids. The company used that claim to mount a highly aggressive marketing campaign, securing billions in profits. When drug companies market these drugs illegally or fail to divert suspicious shipments under the CSA, opioid lawyers may be able to hold them liable in subsequent lawsuits.
Local, county and state governments may be able to recover the following types of damages in lawsuits against the drug manufacturers and wholesalers of opioids:
- Hospitalizations and medical treatment
- Medical transportation
- Increased costs of drug rehabilitation programs
- Increased costs of incarceration and prosecution
- Increased costs of law enforcement investigations
Individuals who join these lawsuits as plaintiffs as a class may also recover damages, including:
- Medical expenses
- Drug treatment costs
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Funeral expenses and burial costs
- Other damages
Get experienced legal help
The experienced lawyers at Lamber Goodnow understand the extent of the opioid epidemic and strongly believe that the manufacturers and wholesalers who have flooded the market with these dangerous drugs should be held accountable for the damage that they have caused. We have the legal knowledge and experience that is required to prove liability in these complex cases. Through lawsuits filed by our opioid addiction lawyers, local and state governments along with the families of those who have succumbed to their addictions may be able to recover compensation for their losses. Contact Lamber Goodnow today to schedule your consultation.