Pursuing Lawsuits against those who Contribute to Opioid Overdoses, Overprescribing, and Death
It is no secret that the opioid epidemic in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services officially declared that the opioid crisis in the US was a public health emergency. This declaration allowed for the appropriate resources and services to be applied to the fight against the abuse, overprescribing, and overdoses associated with opiate prescription narcotics. In order for a problem related to prescription medications to get this out of hand, there must be some correlation between the doctors who prescribe the medications and the manufacturers who produce the medications. Whatever the reason for this massive problem–one thing is clear–Americans are not manufacturing or prescribing themselves massive doses of prescription opiate drugs.
Each year there are roughly 50,000 deaths attributed to opiates across the United States. This death toll is directly correlated to the rising popularity of opiate narcotic prescriptions in general. According to the CDC the number of opiate prescription pills that were sold by drug manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors has almost quadrupled since 1999 even though studies have shown that Americans have not been in any more pain or suffered a growing amount of injuries. Is it possible that doctors and hospitals are working in cahoots with the manufacturers to prescribe these medications in order to inflate their profits?
The documented increase in opiate prescriptions has also led to a rise in the popularity of illicit opioids, like heroin, and to the illegal street sales of opiate drugs like OxyContin, fentanyl, hydrocodone, codeine, and many other types of opioids.
It is no surprise then that of the more than 50,000 people that die as a result of opioid overdose each year, some 21,000 of those were caused by prescription opioid overdoses. This amounts to roughly 91 people dying each day from opioid related overdoses. This is a clear tragedy and there is no excuse for it.
Just like the number of opioid prescriptions in the US has dramatically increased since 1999 so has opioid overdose deaths. According to the CDC opioid overdose deaths increased by 600% from the years 1999 to 2017.
The statistics lead to a startling fact. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. What’s worse is that there are signs that the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing further to this problem as a lack of access to health resources, walk-in clinics, and syringe exchange programs, along with the shut down of peer support meetings, has driven up opioid-related overdoses and deaths.
It is clear that there is a problem–and the source of that problem is not so vague either. But what do we do about it?
If you or your family have been impacted by the overprescribing of opiate drugs–like overdose, injury, illness, or death–contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today.
Overprescribing and Overdoses: Florida’s Extreme Opioid Crisis
Each year Florida reports nearly 5,000 drug-related overdose deaths. Of those deaths, nearly 68% of them are related to opioids. This amounts to more than 3,000 opioid related overdose deaths in Florida each year.
It is no surprise then that Florida doctors and other healthcare providers wrote 53.7 prescriptions for every 100 persons in Florida in 2018.
The impact of so many opioid users and overdoses has far-reaching implications. From a strain on our healthcare resources and our police force, all the way to an increases in crime and children in foster care, there are few places this problem does not reach. No doubt, opioid abuse is a crisis in Florida as thousands of mothers, fathers, and children are torn from their loved ones.
In order to battle this epidemic, Florida has looked to lawmakers to help reduce the opioid crisis. Laws that restrict the prescribing of opioids for acute pain and more extensive pharmacy databases have helped reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in Florida but these mechanism have proven to not be enough.
Now, we look to the manufacturers and those prescribing these harmful medications for answers as to why so many of our loved ones are suffering under the weight of opioid abuse. In most cases these people did not produce, nor prescribe themselves, the medication. Instead, trust was placed in the hands of corporations and healthcare professionals to help alleviate a problem rather than to create a monster.
Clearly this problem did not spring up out of nowhere. Like many of the nation’s other problems, the root of opioid overprescribing and overdose deaths can be directly drawn back to profit-seeking and bottom lines.
Big Pharma and How They Perpetuate the Opioid Crisis
Pharmaceutical manufacturers, like those who produce OxyContin and hydrocodone, hold a significant amount of the blame for the amount of opioid drugs that flood our streets and communities. These companies have fed the beast that is the problem of the opioid crisis in America by focusing more on the profits of their shareholders than the health of their communities. Manipulative marketing and the concealment of the harm of opioid addiction have directly led to so much of the issues we face today.
The opioid crisis we face as a nation is a direct result of the drug industry’s business model. Aggressive marketing directly helped to create this frenzy of opioid prescriptions as drug companies routinely spend more on marketing and advertising than on research into the impact their products might have. Between 1997 and 2016, drug companies’ marketing spending increased from $17.7 billion to $29.9 billion.
Additionally, these companies have been found by courts to distort claims about the low addictive nature of opioid drugs to doctors in order to misrepresent their drugs as safe.
None of this new. Drug companies have been reaping massive profits using aggressive marketing, monopolies, and drug patents to maximize profit since the creation of these mega-manufacturers.
What Are Opioids and Why Are They a Problem?
Opioids are a class of medication that are most commonly used to block pain signals to the brain. They work by binding themselves to the opioid receptors in the brain which blocks pain signals and can create a feeling of euphoria. Most people take opioid medications to relieve themselves from moderate to severe pain from some injury or illness, but its euphoric effects are also why people abuse them.
Opioids are also the class of drug that include the illicit drug, heroin. Although the more common form is the prescription based synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and many others. When used correctly under doctor supervision, opioid prescription medications can be extremely helpful for those who have debilitating pain. However, because of the nature of the drug’s chemistry in conjunction with the brain’s chemistry, opioids can be extremely addictive.
Because they are prescription medication, most people mistakenly believe that they must be perfectly safe. However, the addictive nature of the drug has been well-documented. The CDC estimates that more than 25% of the people who are legally prescribed opioids are addicted to them.
When opioids are taken for a long period of time, your body slows its natural production of endorphins. This means that the dose that once relieved your pain will now have to be increased to get the same effects. This is one of the conflicting and dangerous aspects of opioids and one that makes it so addictive. As people become tolerant to the medication they also start to experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not take the medication. Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable which can lead many to seek the medication regardless of the consequences.
In addition to their addictive nature, opioids also have the potential for overdose.
Opioid Overdose and Fatalities
Opioids cause the respiratory system to slow down and interfere with the regulation of oxygen intake and expulsion of carbon dioxide in the brain stem. When the respiratory system is depressed it can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain which can lead to death. As discussed above, those who take opioids require a larger and larger dose as their tolerance builds which means that the amount of the medication that will cause an overdose varies from person to person.
The reasons that people overdose on opioids vary quite a bit, but as opioid overdose and fatality lawyers we have seen some commonalities. Those include:
- people who are prescribed more than one opiate at a time
- people who are prescribed high doses of opioid medications
- people who are prescribed strong opioids, like fentanyl and hydromorphone
- people who have taken opioids over an extended period of time
- people who have been prescribed opioids in conjunction with other strong medications like benzodiazepines
- and people who supplement their medication with pills they buy on the black market
Proving an Opioid Lawsuit to a Jury
Proving an opiate overdose or overprescribing case is by its very nature difficult since the defendants in these claims are often giant pharmaceutical companies, or doctors who are well-protected by medical malpractice laws. However, with the right attorney who is experienced in overdose and overprescribing opioid lawsuits, these cases are possible to win especially since there is a precedent for similar claims and a clear case for negligence.
The goal of an opioid lawsuit is to convince the jury that the pharmaceutical manufacturers, or the doctors who prescribe the medications in a negligent manner, are responsible for their actions and need to be held accountable. This is done by proving to the jury that the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioid medications do so knowing that their product is both addictive and dangerous, while also marketing it in a way that says otherwise.
In 1998, a similar situation was presented to the courts when 46 states and six other jurisdictions came together to sue big tobacco for collectively contributing to the smoking related diseases that plague our country. In the largest civil litigation settlement in US history, the biggest tobacco companies in the country agreed to pay US states annual payments in perpetuity to fund public health programs and anti-smoking campaigns. There is a direct parallel between the damage that tobacco companies have created and the damage that opioid companies have created.
Additionally, Purdue Pharma, the creator of OxyContin, also settled for $600 million in 2007–while three of its top executives plead guilty to criminal charges–for their role in misleading doctors about the addictive nature of the opioid drug they produce.
Some of the key elements in proving these cases against the manufacturers is that they did not warn the public adequately of the dangers of addiction while also using illegal marketing strategies that put profits over public health. Without a doubt, drug manufacturers and wholesalers have a responsibility to adequately warn the public of their drugs side effects, risks, and potential for addiction. Many have claimed that these manufacturers have downplayed these effects and risks to both doctors and patients.
Doctors Who Over-prescribe Harmful Opioid Medications
In addition to the manufacturers of opioid medications, some physicians and doctors may also be to blame for the opioid epidemic in America. It is widely known that some doctors overprescribe opioids in a way that is clearly about greed. In many cases, doctors prescribe way more opioid pills, and in way higher doses, than a patient needs for their specific injury or pain level.
One of the most egregious examples of this behavior takes the form of something known as a “pill mill”. These doctors set up a scheme in which they accept cash only payments in exchange for opioid prescriptions, regardless of the ailment or if an ailment even exists. Many doctors will say that pill mills are a rare exception and shine no light on the medical industry as a whole, however, there have been many instances that have proved that pill mills are not the only doctors responsible for overprescribing opioids. Thanks to new laws and regulations, the prescribing of opioids has gone down but there is still a clear problem since opioids, per milligram, are still prescribed three times more than they were in 1999.
What Damages Can I Sue for in an Opioid Lawsuit?
Depending on the specifics of your case you may be able to recover the following types of damages for your opioid overdose or opioid overprescribing case:
- Medical bills
- Ambulance transportation
- Drug rehabilitation programs
- Other drug treatment programs
- Costs of incarceration and/or prosecution
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Funeral expenses
- Miscellaneous other damages
FAQ: Opioid Lawsuits, Overprescribing, and Overdoses
There is no doubt that opioid addiction and overdoses leave so many individuals and families with lots of questions. Here are some answers to common questions about opioid addiction, opioid overdoses, and opioid overprescribing.
What percentage of drug overdoses are caused by opioids?
According to the CDC, 702,000 people died in the US between 1999 in 2017 from a drug overdose. Of those more than 700,000 deaths, 68% of them are attributed to opioids.
Have any drug manufacturers been held accountable so far?
Purdue Pharma is the creator of one of the most popular opioid medication on the market, OxyContin. And they are one of the most popular on the market because they have spent more than $1 billion advertising and marketing their product to doctors. Since the mid-90s they have worked tirelessly to make sure that their drug is the go-to choice for doctors. However, they also mislead those doctors, and the public, about the addictive nature of their drug and encouraged doctors to prescribe their medication to patients for all types of ailments that may have not needed an opioid narcotic. It’s misleading information maybe a large contributing factor to the opioid addiction epidemic this country is facing. As discussed above, Purdue Pharma did settle for hundreds of millions of dollars based on this misleading information and the resulting damage.
Did Purdue Pharma file bankruptcy?
Yes. In late 2019 Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after their landfall settlement associated with the opioid epidemic. After the settlement was reached the company agreed to provide between $10 billion and $12 billion to combat the opioid crisis in America. This bankruptcy does not mean that Purdue Pharma is going out of business but instead will be able to restructure its debt in a way that allows them to pay back the thousands of defendants who successfully filed lawsuits against them.
How much has the opioid epidemic cost?
The opioid addiction epidemic in the United States is estimated to have cost the US economy between $78 billion and $631 billion over the last couple decades. However, these numbers may be low considering that the White House Council on economic affairs released a report in 2009 stating that the economic burden in just three years was potentially $2.5 trillion.
What exactly is an opioid lawsuit?
Some of the opioid lawsuits that you may read about our class action lawsuits aimed at gathering a large group of defendants who consolidate their lawsuit into a single action in order to go after opioid drug manufacturers. Other lawsuits are filed by individuals in an attempt to gain compensation for the damages that opioids have caused them and their families. These lawsuits seek to recover damages based on the deceptive marketing tactics of opioid manufacturers and the overprescribing of the medications to patients. The goal is to recover the financial damage created by hospitalizations, medical bills, drug treatment programs, pain and suffering, and many other costs.
Can I file an opioid lawsuit?
If you or a family member became addicted to opioid narcotic medications, or overdosed on opioid medications, you may be able to seek compensation for your damages. In order to file an opioid lawsuit, you will need to work closely with an attorney to help prove that you were prescribed the medication and that that medication directly caused you some type of harm. Usually this information is not difficult to gather since opioid prescribing, and it’s negative effects, are often well-document by pharmacies, hospitals, doctors, and treatment centers.
Is there a time limit to file my opioid lawsuit claim?
There have been recent opioid lawsuits that have claimed that the defendant cannot use a statute of limitation defense because they purposely mislead the public about their conduct. However, the specifics of each case vary widely and it is possible that Florida statute of limitations on defective medication claims, and personal injury claims in general, may affect your claim. If you believe that you or a loved one are eligible for an opioid lawsuit, contact the opioid lawsuit lawyers at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA as soon as possible for a free consultation to discuss your claim and any potential time restrictions.
How can Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA help me with my opioid lawsuit case?
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA has years of experience fighting back against giant drug manufacturers who put profits ahead of public safety. Those who have caused you and your family harm deserve to be held accountable for their actions, and that is exactly what we do. We will work tirelessly with you, a team of experts, and any necessary witnesses to build the most credible case possible to help your family become whole again. We offer a free consultation to those who believe that they have been injured or in someway wronged by drug manufacturers or “prescription-happy” doctors. The only way that you will truly be able to seek justice for your opioid overdose or opioid overprescribing case is to work with a skilled team of attorneys.
Contact an Experienced Opioid Lawsuit Lawyer
At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we represent individuals and families who have been harmed, made ill, or died due to opioid overprescribing and overdoses. We have years of experience going after opioid manufacturers and the makers of harmful drugs–like Zantac, Risperdal, Z-pak, Uloric–and seek to get our clients compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, treatment costs, pain or suffering, and any other damages you were caused. Contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today to schedule your free consultation by calling 727-451-6900 or by filling out our online contact form.