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The abuse of opioid drugs has skyrocketed in the last two decades, and oxycodone hydrochloride has played an outsized role in the epidemic of addiction. This generic is manufactured by several different pharmaceutical companies using different formulations and brand names, including Purdue Pharma.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids increased from 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017. Drug overdose deaths from any opioid, including illicit drugs such as heroin, increased from 18,515 in 2007 to 47,600 in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 218,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdoses from 1999 to 2017, and the number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increased five-fold during that period. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that 20.5 million people in the U.S. were addicted to drugs in 2015. Out of that number, 2 million were addicted to prescription opioid medications.
This wave of addiction and overdose deaths has left families, communities, municipalities, and states struggling to tamp down the opioid epidemic. The societal and economic costs have been staggering. According to the CDC, the annual costs of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. is an estimated $78.5 billion. In response to this crisis, thousands of cities and counties across the U.S. along with a majority of states have filed lawsuits against the drug manufacturers who make these drugs, including Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt. While many of these lawsuits are still pending, both companies have indicated that they might file for bankruptcy protection. The oxycodone lawyers at the Lamber Goodnow team at Fennemore Craig and the oxycodone attorneys at our co-counsel firms can help individual plaintiffs to pursue their claims through the bankruptcy court process if these companies do file for bankruptcy.
What is oxycodone?
OxyContin and other formulations of this drug fall in a class of narcotic medications called opiate analgesics. These drugs are synthetic opioids that are used to treat moderate to severe pain. They interfere with the body’s pain signaling system to relieve pain and to provide a sense of well-being. Unfortunately, because of how these drugs work in the body and brain, they carry a high potential for addiction.
How does it work in the brain and body?
The nervous system is divided between the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes pain receptors located outside of the central nervous system. When an area of your body is injured, the pain receptors send signals along the peripheral nerves to your central nervous system, which is comprised of your spinal cord and brain. The CNS then passes these signals up the spinal cord to the brain. When the brain receives the information that you have suffered an injury, it will signal back to tell your body how it should respond. It also releases endorphins to reduce pain and stress, which are natural opioids.
When people take synthetic opioids such as OxyContin or Roxicodone, these drugs mimic how the body’s endorphins act within the nervous system by binding to opioid receptor sites in the neural synapses. The neural synapses are spaces between the end of one nerve and the beginning of the next through which the pain signals travel. When the drugs bind to these receptor sites, the pain signal is interrupted, providing you with relief from your pain. At the same time, they cause your body to release dopamine, which causes you to experience intense feelings of pleasure.
The opioid receptors trigger widespread changes throughout the body. They affect the receptors in the brain stem, which causes your respiration to slow, your blood pressure to drop, and your alertness to decrease. They also turn off certain cells in your midbrain called GABAergic neurons, which control the body’s pleasure systems. When these are switched off, the brain is flooded with dopamine, leading to addiction.
Why OxyContin, Roxicodone, and other formulations are addictive
Opiate analgesics are addictive because of how they work in the brain and body. By blocking the opioid receptors and causing dopamine levels to surge, the brain and body quickly adapt to drugs like OxyContin and Roxicodone. The brain comes to rely on the presence of these medications and becomes addicted to them. When they are taken away, there is an opposite effect on the brain stem and the pleasure center of the brain. People suffer from anxiety, rapid heartbeat, increased respiration rates, and enhanced pain when they withdraw from opiates.
The role of Purdue in the opioid epidemic’s cause
Purdue Pharma has the dubious claim of igniting the opioid epidemic with OxyContin. The company released its drug to the U.S. market in 1996. The company heavily marketed the drug, growing its U.S. sales from $48 million in 1996 to $1.1 billion just four years later in 2000. By 2004, the drug was among the top drugs abused in the country. Between 1996 and 2001, Purdue Pharma held more than 40 national conferences and speaker training events at resorts in California, Arizona, and Florida. These all-expenses-paid conferences were attended by more than 5,000 doctors, pharmacists, and nurses from across the nation. The focus of these conferences was to spur frontline medical providers to prescribe OxyContin, and the company marketed its extended-release formulation as being safe and as having a low addiction potential.
Q: What is the nature of allegations against Purdue for their manufacture of OxyContin and Roxicodone?
A: The allegations against Purdue Pharma are focused on its marketing practices for OxyContin. In 2007, Purdue and three of its executives were fined $630 million for its misleading marketing campaign for OxyContin. The company and the executives had represented that OxyContin’s extended-release formulary was less addictive than forms that required people to take pills several times per day. However, evidence was uncovered that showed that Purdue was aware of the addictive potential of OxyContin soon after it was approved by the FDA in the 1990s. In the company’s response to a lawsuit filed against it by the state of Alaska, Purdue Pharma argued that it was allowed to push OxyContin by the FDA rules that were written for its newer approved formulation of the drug. However, advocacy groups funded by Purdue helped the FDA to write the rules that the company has cited in its defense.
Q: Will Purdue declare bankruptcy?
A: There are indications that Purdue is likely to file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition shortly. The New York Post reports that a bankruptcy filing by Purdue is imminent because the settlement talks between the company and the state attorney generals that have sued it have broken down. The Sackler family and Purdue have refused to agree to some of the terms of the earlier proposed agreement to settle the claims for $10 to $12 billion such as where the money would come from. By filing a Chapter 11 petition, Purdue’s legal liability could drop to $1 billion instead of the proposed amount of $10 to $12 billion.
While bankruptcy petitions from these and other drug makers may be imminent, certain claimants may still be able to file claims against through the bankruptcy cases if they do. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a restructuring of the debt of the companies in which the claimants are paid money out of the bankruptcy estate on a payment schedule approved by both the creditors and the U.S. Trustee.
Q: What happens if Purdue declares bankruptcy?
A: If Purdue Pharma follows through with bankruptcy petitions, the bankruptcy court will issue an automatic stay to all of the claimants and creditors of the companies. An automatic stay is an injunction ordering all collection activity, including lawsuits, to cease. This would mean that the claimants would need to file claims within the bankruptcy cases themselves as the litigation in the courts would likely end.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy requires the petitioners to file schedules in which they list all of their creditors, including those who have filed lawsuits against them. Claimants who are not listed in the schedules must file a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court within a specific time. If they fail to file their proofs of claim within the prescribed period, they will lose their right to pursue their claims.
Claimants that have valid claims and who pursue them in bankruptcy court may have their claims resolved faster than they might expect with traditional civil claims. Because of the complexities of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws and procedures, potential claimants should contact an oxycodone attorney, like those at Lamber Goodnow and our co-counsel firms.
Q: What types of injuries are associated with the use of oxycodone?
A: The use of this type of opioid can cause many side effects and result in serious injuries. Some of the common injuries include the following:
- Slowed respiration
- Cessation of breathing
- Very low blood pressure
- Circulatory depression
- Permanent cognitive deficits
If you are with someone who you believe is overdosing on this drug, it is important for you to call 911 immediately and to administer naloxone to the person who is overdosing if you have it available.
Q: Can there be wrongful death cases claims arising from the use of these drugs?
A: Wrongful death claims can be filed because of the use of opioids. Some of these lawsuits have been filed against distributors and drug manufacturers when areas have been flooded with more pills than are necessary for the population size. The drug makers and distributors have a duty to divert suspiciously large drug shipments to certain areas and to notify the DEA.
Get help from Lamber Goodnow
Harmed individuals may be able to file claims in bankruptcy court if Purdue Pharma files petitions for bankruptcy protection. Because of the complexity of bankruptcy law as they relate to large corporate bankruptcies, it is important to talk to the experienced oxycodone lawyers at Lamber Goodnow and our co-counsel firms. For cases we accept, we operate on a contingent fee, which means there are no out-of-pocket costs, and we only get paid if we recover on your behalf. Call today to see if we can help.
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