Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47,000 people died from overdoses of opioids in 2017. Of those fatalities, 36% involved overdoses of prescription opioid medications. Since 1999, opioid overdoses have increased nearly six times. A major contributor to the opioid epidemic that has swept across the U.S., Purdue Pharma allegedly ignited the problem in the late 1990s with its deceptive and aggressive marketing campaign for OxyContin. As a result, doctors across the U.S. began prescribing this powerful narcotic analgesic for non-cancer pain, leading to a wave of addiction. Many people who became addicted to their prescription opioids turned to illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl as cheaper alternatives, leading to more problems.
Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid epidemic
Purdue Pharma was originally founded in 1892 by two doctors named John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham. In 1952, the company was sold to Raymond and Mortimer Sackler. The Sacklers moved the company first to Yonkers and later to its current headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. The company is now largely owned by younger members of the Sacklers. The current company was incorporated in 1991, and it has focused on pain medication.
Purdue released OxyContin, an extended-release form of oxycodone, in 1996. The company claimed that the extended-release form of the drug was safer than regular release oxycodone and had a lower potential for addiction and abuse. Following the drug’s release, Purdue and the Sackler family engaged in an extremely aggressive marketing campaign. The company held conferences that were attended by thousands of doctors, pharmacists, and other health care professionals at which their drugs were promoted. The company purportedly told the medical professionals that the drug was safe to prescribe and carried a low potential for addiction, and it also reputedly encouraged doctors to prescribe it for chronic pain that was not cancer-related.
The company has claimed for years that it was unaware of the addictive potential of its opioid drug. However, Justice Department documents revealed that Purdue was aware that people were abusing the extended-release oxycodone tablets soon after it was released in 1996. People were simply crushing the pills and snorting them to experience the highs that the drug produces. Despite having this knowledge, the company allegedly hid it and persisted in its deceptive and fraudulent marketing campaign. In the four short years from the drug’s release from 1996 to 2000, the sales of it grew from $48 million to $1.1 billion. The company continued to push the drug, leading to an increasing number of people who became addicted. In addition to its formulation of oxycodone HCL, Purdue also makes other pain medications, including MS Contin and Ryzolt, that are similarly addictive and have contributed to the spread of the opioid epidemic. Drugs that are made by Rhodes are also manufactured by Purdue Pharma as its subsidiary.
Why are these drugs addictive?
The reason why the pain medications that are manufactured by Purdue are so addictive is how they work in the brain. These drugs are opioid medications that are created in the lab. Your brain naturally produces its own opioids, which are substances that help to relieve pain and to provide your body with a sensation of pleasure. When you injure a part of your body, pain receptors send signals along your peripheral nerves to your spinal column. From there, the signals are sent to your brain via your nerves.
In the neural synapses, which are the spaces between the end of one nerve and the beginning of the next, there are receptors called opioid receptors. These are sites to which opioids bind to. When you take a synthetic opioid, the medication binds to these receptor sites. The binding of opioids to your opioid receptors causes your brain to release a flood of endorphins. These endorphins provide a feeling of intense pleasure. The pain signal is also disrupted so that you experience reduced pain.
The reputed problem with synthetic opioids is that they have a wide-reaching effect on the brain. They target the brain’s reward system while simultaneously affecting the brain stem. Your brain stem controls autonomic processes such as breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. When you take opioids, all of these processes are slowed. The effect on the reward center of the brain makes people want to take more of the drugs and can quickly lead to abuse and addiction. The brain will need increasing amounts of these medications for people to experience the same effects. Eventually, people who develop addictions to opioids will need to continue taking the drugs to feel normal. If they stop, their blood pressure and heart rates can skyrocket, and they can experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Dangers of Purdue’s opioids
Purdue Pharma’s pain medications can lead to overdose and death. Some of the symptoms of an overdose on one of these opioids include the following:
- Excessive sweating
- Shallow breathing
- Respiratory arrest
- Loss of consciousness
- Pinpoint pupils
- Muscle weakness
- Cardiovascular arrest
In addition to the injuries that people can suffer, the toll on society is extensive. The family members of people who are addicted may suffer financial harm. Cities, counties, and states have struggled under the costs of widespread addiction, treatment efforts, and increased law enforcement efforts. According to data from the White House, the cost of the opioid epidemic in 2015 alone was an estimated $504 billion.[8}
What does the bankruptcy case mean for the legal claims against Purdue?
When a bankruptcy petition is filed, an automatic stay is issued by the bankruptcy court to all of the company’s creditors. This stay is an injunction that prohibits further collection activities, including lawsuits. However, claimants are still allowed to file claims through the bankruptcy case. Purdue has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is a form of business bankruptcy that will allow it to restructure its debts. The bankruptcy trustee will determine how much money will be used to settle the claims against it.
The bankruptcy process can move faster than complex civil litigation in court. In Purdue’s case, however, many creditors and claimants are likely to object to its proposed reorganization plan. In the plan, Purdue has called for the bankruptcy court to protect the Sacklers from lawsuits. Several state attorney generals have found evidence that the Sacklers moved money out of Purdue and into overseas bank accounts to protect it from the reach of judgment creditors. For example, New York uncovered evidence that the Sacklers moved $1 billion via wire transfers out of the company and into their bank accounts overseas. If the bankruptcy court determines that there is evidence of fraudulent transfers, the plan could be rejected and the case dismissed. Purdue has also threatened to walk away from the bankruptcy process if the Sacklers are not protected. However, since the Sacklers are not parties to the bankruptcy case, it is unclear whether the court would agree to protect them in the company’s bankruptcy.
If the settlement and reorganization plans are approved, parties with valid claims can file their claims with the bankruptcy court. Their claims will then be processed through the bankruptcy court process. Entities and people who have valid claims must file them quickly, however. The bankruptcy court has strict deadlines for creditors to file their claims. If you believe that you have a claim against Purdue, you should talk to the attorneys at Lamber Goodnow or one of our co-counsel firms as soon as possible to preserve your rights.
Get help from opioid lawyers
Millions of people have been harmed by the opioid epidemic, and Purdue has played an outsized role in its cause. Families who have lost loved ones and individuals may be able to recover compensation. The money could help to build rehabilitation centers and to secure medications that fight abuse of opioids. To learn more, contact the Lamber Goodnow legal team today.
Sources https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/index.html  https://heroin.palmbeachpost.com/  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/30/the-family-that-built-an-empire-of-pain  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622774/  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/29/health/purdue-opioids-oxycontin.html  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1357272506003323  https://www.naabt.org/faq_answers.cfm?ID=6  https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/images/The%20Underestimated%20Cost%20of%20the%20Opioid%20Crisis.pdf  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/13/health/sacklers-purdue-opioids.html