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Opioid abuse in the U.S. has reached epidemic proportions. Furthermore, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, illicit ones like heroin, and opioid pain relievers like codeine and hydrocodone have played a significant role in the spread of this new wave of addiction.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the total number of opioid pills and drugs sold by drug makers to doctors and pharmacies quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. This is despite the fact that studies do not show a corresponding increase in the number of Americans who needed such medication to treat chronic pain during this period.
Prescription drug abuse has affected the lives and families of many people across the country. According to a CDC report, about 91 people die each day from an opioid overdose. Another report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine indicates that over 52,000 people lost their lives in 2015 due to overdosing. Of these deaths, over 20,000 involved prescription opioids.
States, municipalities, and counties have now started to respond to this nationwide menace by retaining opioid attorneys and filing lawsuits against companies that manufacture or sell opioids. Through these litigations, plaintiffs are now able to at least curb the spread of opioid-related addictions.
People who have lost their loved ones through an opioid overdose can also seek retribution for their loss through mass tort litigations against the responsible opioid wholesalers and manufacturers with the legal help and counsel of opioid attorneys.
Opioids: What are They?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines opioids as drugs designed to block our brains’ pain pathways. Opioids are generally used to treat moderate to severe pain. This is made possible by opioid molecules as they bind themselves to opioid receptors located in our brains, effectively blocking pain signals. At the same time, they cause a feeling of euphoria, which is what causes many people to get hooked and start using the drugs recreationally. Because of the way they work, opioids change how our brains function and have a high propensity for addiction.
Prescription opioids are likely to lead to addiction, and even death, for people who have had the medication prescribed to them by their health care providers. Since most opioids must be prescribed by a doctor, a lot of people mistakenly think that they’re safe for use. However, most people don’t know that their addictive potential can lead to users taking more than the prescribed amount, potentially causing them to turn to illegal opioids like heroin to satisfy their needs. Since opioids modify the brain’s reward system, about 25% of all the people who are legally-prescribed such medication end up becoming addicted.
A Look at Why Opioid Overdoses are Often Fatal
Opioids slow down breathing and interfere with how oxygen is regulated in our bodies and how carbon dioxide is expelled from the brain stem. When an individual takes too many opioids, their risk of dying increases as their respiratory system becomes repressed. When respiration is hampered, the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen to function properly, and that’s what often leads to death. However, it is worth noting that the dosage of opioids one will have to take before they overdose varies depending on the opiate type, its strength, the person’s age, weight, and biochemistry. Some individuals may also experience an opioid overdose because of drug interactions between the opioids and other medications they are taking.
Risk Factors Associated with an Opioid Overdose
Some people accidentally overdose on these drugs. As such, it’s worth noting that several factors increase the chances of overdosing. Here is a look at some overdose scenarios our opioid addiction attorneys have encountered over the years:
- People taking fentanyl
- People prescribed high opioid doses
- People who’ve been taking opioids for a long time
- People who take benzodiazepines and opioids (both target the central nervous system)
- People who supplement prescribed opioids with heroin or other opioids
- People who take or are prescribed opiates for off-label purposes
If you know someone who’s suffered an opioid overdose, be it a spouse or a relative, an opioid addiction attorney can help you hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions by filing a lawsuit.
Proving Liability in an Opioid Overdose Case
It can be challenging to prove liability in opioid overdose cases. In most cases, plaintiffs have an uphill battle of convincing juries that they should hold the responsible parties liable because of one argument – their loved ones took the drugs or medication themselves. Nevertheless, when mass tort lawsuits are filed, the chances of holding the drug manufacturer or wholesaler liable for contributing to the addiction and abuse of their product increases. As per NPR, 41 American states are currently investigating the drug makers who’ve supplied opioid products to their markets. Multiple counties, municipalities, and states have, since then, filed lawsuits against several companies, and chances are more are going to follow suit.
Drug manufacturers and wholesalers often argue that those affected were responsible for harming themselves by not consuming the drugs as directed. However, opioid attorneys can hold these entities liable if the warnings on their products were inadequate or if they used illegitimate marketing tactics to unload their drugs on the market just to make a profit.
Mass tort litigations have the potential to make opioid drug manufacturers and wholesalers pay their dues for their actions. This is all thanks to mass tort litigation filed against Big Tobacco in the ’90s. In 1998, tobacco companies got embroiled in a lawsuit and entered the largest-ever civil litigation case settlement. Tobacco users lost their lives after using products that were sold as intended. However, in cases against big pharma, liability may rely on proving that the manufacturers and wholesalers violated other duties considering that most overdose cases are the result of medication abuse.
According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, drug wholesalers and manufacturers have a duty to divert drug shipments when they’re suspicious. They also must ensure they provide enough warning about the risks of using a drug, its side effects, and its potential for addiction. Many physicians report that pharmaceutical corporations downplayed the risk of addiction when they marketed their drugs.
For instance, in a case filed against Purdue Pharma, the company that made OxyContin, the corporation settled the matter by paying $600 million in 2007. Apart from that, three of its top-level executives pleaded guilty to several criminal charges. Purdue Pharma provided doctors with false information about how addictive OxyContin is – they falsely claimed that it had a time-release formula, which made it less addictive. This claim was the basis of a highly aggressive marketing campaign that helped the company make billions of dollars in profit.
When pharmaceutical companies don’t divert suspicious shipments under the Controlled Substance Act or market their drugs illegally, then opioid attorneys have a basis for filing a lawsuit against them.
Potential Opioid Overdose Damages
Here is a list of damages that state, county, and local governments can recover through lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and wholesalers:
- Medical transportation
- Increased costs of prosecution and incarceration
- Hospitalizations and medical treatment
- Increased costs of investigations conducted by law enforcement agencies
- Increased costs of running drug rehabilitation programs
People who join a class action lawsuit can also recover damages such as:
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Drug treatment costs
- Funeral expenses and burial costs
- And other damages
Questions Opioid Lawyers Get Asked Frequently
Opioid abuse and addiction have continued to sweep through America, ravaging communities and devastating the lives of thousands of people, and has now reached epidemic proportions. As per the CDC, over 702,000 Americans lost their lives through overdoses between 1999 and 2017, with 68% of them dying from opioid overdoses.
With the opioid epidemic destroying communities, families, and individuals, multiple big pharma companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Teva, Purdue Pharma, and others, have been subject to lawsuits filed by thousands of plaintiffs from across the nation. McDonald Worley opioid attorneys represent individuals who have suffered harm due to some of these drug makers’ actions. We have received dozens of questions concerning opioid lawsuits over the years and have compiled the following FAQs to provide those who want to learn more about these lawsuits with additional information.
Q: How has the opioid epidemic affected the economy?
A: There have been disagreements about how much the epidemic costs. For instance, a study published in the Medical Care journal in 2016 projected the opioid epidemic’s economic burden to be around $78.5 billion. Another report published in 2018 by the Society of Actuaries projected that the economy’s burden between 2015 and 2018 was $631 billion. Interestingly, a report released by the White House Council on Economic Affairs in 2019 stated that the estimated burden of the opioid epidemic on the U.S. economy between 2015 and 2018 was $2.5 trillion, with $696 billion of that coming from 2018 alone.
While the Council on Economic Affair’s estimate is greater than the other two, the council attributes this difference to the increased number of opioid overdose-related deaths over the last few years. The council also uses a different methodology to calculate costs and includes the social costs of untimely deaths. Regardless of which study you look at, it’s clear that this epidemic is one that has cost America hundreds of billions of dollars. Sadly, this cost has been borne by everyone, from individuals, communities, and schools to cities, municipalities, and states.
Q: What is an opioid lawsuit?
A: Many people have filed suits against the pharmaceutical companies responsible for making, marketing, and selling prescription opioids in America since the 90s. Many of these companies, including the likes of Purdue Pharma, allegedly used fraudulent and deceptive marketing strategies to increase their earnings. Most of the companies supposedly downplayed how addictive their drugs were and incentivized doctors and other health care providers to recommend/prescribe their products. These corporations did so in the full knowledge that their drugs were extremely addictive and were likely to be abused.
Opioid overdose lawsuits are generally filed against drug manufacturers for the harm they’ve caused people because of their deceptive and fraudulent marketing tactics. Other suits also focus on the corporations who ignored the fact that abnormally large prescription opioid shipments were ordered by pharmacies and drug stores in communities that are too small to warrant such huge amounts. Instead of diverting such orders, the companies allowed them to be delivered, flooding states and communities with prescription opioids, and fueling the epidemic. It’s due to problems such as these that lawsuits have been filed against some of these big pharma companies. These companies need to be held accountable for the harm they have caused.
Q: Can anyone file an opioid lawsuit?
A: Most, if not all, opioid overdose lawsuits have been filed by individuals who became addicted to an opioid drug after they were allegedly assured that they were not addictive so long as they took them as directed. These cases have also been filed by people who lost their loved ones to overdosing on opioids their doctors prescribed them. Apart from families and individuals, other parties that have sued opioid manufacturers include schools, tribes, states, counties, and cities which do so intending to recover damages to compensate for the costs of managing the epidemic.
Q: What is the importance of filing an opioid lawsuit?
A: State and local governments, schools, families, and individuals have to deal with the overwhelming costs associated with treating opioid addicts and the effects opioids have on communities. States, counties, cities, and tribal governments across America pursue opioid litigation against liable drug makers to recover damages related to increased criminal justice costs, insurance costs, lost productivity, substance abuse treatment costs, and other costs that arise due to the epidemic.
Bankruptcy claims or lawsuits provide communities a way to hold responsible drug manufacturers accountable for their role in fueling the opioid addiction/abuse crisis while making it possible for them to recover damages for losses suffered. Filing bankruptcy claims or lawsuits allows state and local governments to secure the funds they need to mount wars against opioid abuse in their respective communities. Over 2,000 lawsuits filed against different drug manufacturers by state and local governments across America have joined a multi-district class-action lawsuit in Ohio.
Q: What role has Purdue Pharma played in the current opioid epidemic?
A: Many medical professionals believe the company instigated the opioid epidemic through its aggressive OxyContin marketing campaign in the 90s. Purdue Pharma marketed the drug as not being addictive and encouraged physicians to prescribe the medication as a treatment for non-cancer pains. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the corporation held dozens of all-expenses-paid meetings for healthcare providers. This attracted a lot of professionals, and their efforts surely paid off. By 2001, the company was selling $1 billion worth of OxyContin each year.
Despite the company claiming that OxyContin was safe, internal documents show that the company’s executives were aware of how addictive it was after the FDA approved it in 1996. Nevertheless, they kept this information to themselves and continued to fraudulently market the drug as safe. Without this knowledge, doctors across the nation prescribed the drug as a treatment for all types of pain. This, in turn, resulted in millions of Americans becoming opioid addicts.
Q: How does Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy claim affect pending lawsuits?
A: Initially, when Purdue Pharma got thousands of lawsuits filed against them, it reached settlement agreements with several localities and states in September 2019. As part of this settlement, Purdue agreed to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which it did on the 15th of the same month. In the proposed settlement, Purdue Pharma would provide between $10 billion and $12 billion to combat the epidemic – and that included the cost of drugs used to treat addiction.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases involve corporate bankruptcy and are designed to allow corporations to rearrange their debts. In this instance, Purdue Pharma is trying to take care of the several thousand claims that have been filed against the company through its bankruptcy claim. Chapter 11 bankruptcy, unlike chapter 7 bankruptcy, doesn’t mean that the affected company closes its doors and sells its assets to raise funds needed to repay what it owes people. Restructuring debt basically means that the entity submits a settlement proposal to the bankruptcy court, and then the court determines how much every creditor will receive.
Q: Will the company’s bankruptcy petition foreclose litigation?
A: After the company filed for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court issued a momentary injunction, halting all pending litigation against Purdue Pharma. On the 5th of November, 2019, the court further extended this injunction until the 8th of April, 2020. As a result, claims filed against the Sackler family and the company were frozen. Some plaintiffs disputed the Sackler family injunction, arguing that they didn’t deserve such protection.
Although the petition has halted all pending lawsuits against the company, that doesn’t mean that they are foreclosed. It means that those seeking damages can file claims in the bankruptcy court so they can be contested using the bankruptcy process. When a plaintiff files a claim in the court, they become creditors. Once the bankruptcy court receives the company’s settlement proposal and the supporting financial evidence indicates its liabilities and resources, creditors can decide whether the court should approve the proposed settlement.
After that, it is up to the court to decide whether it will approve the settlement, modify it, or dismiss it altogether. Creditors can debate the amounts they think they should be awarded to cover damages and losses. However, when pursuing a claim in bankruptcy court instead of a civil court, keep in mind that bankruptcy cases are generally resolved a lot faster than cases going through the federal court system.
Q: Do opioid claims have deadlines?
A: The bankruptcy court’s deadlines concerning when a creditor can file their claim are very strict. Listed creditors are creditors a company has named in its filings. The court notifies those listed on when they can review proposed settlements and file objections if they have any. Those not listed have to deal with strict deadlines when filing a claim in a bankruptcy case. Those seeking damages have to file a proof of claim form with the court before the deadline. If they don’t, they lose their ability to seek damages as per Chapter 11 of the company’s bankruptcy case.
Q: Can plaintiffs sue the Sackler family?
A: Some local and state governments have filed suits against the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma. The family is one of the wealthiest in America, and several state attorney generals have argued that they have been diverting money out of Purdue Pharma accounts they control for several years now to protect their wealth. While the Sackler’s agreed to provide about $3 billion for the proposed settlement, many accusers have argued that the amount isn’t sufficient and have resorted to filing suits against individual family members in individual capacities.
However, when Purdue Pharma filed its claim, it requested the bankruptcy court to file an injunction to protect both the family and the company from litigation while its bankruptcy claim is being reviewed. While the court typically doesn’t extend injunctions that protect third parties that haven’t filed a lawsuit, the judge preceding over the case agreed and granted the injunction. Just like the ruling that bars people from suing the company, the one protecting the family was scheduled to continue until April 2020. However, since they aren’t parties to the bankruptcy case, the plaintiff can resume filing lawsuits against them once the injunction period ends.
Q: How can opioid overdose attorneys help?
A: The experienced and professional opioid attorneys at McDonald Worley are currently taking on and representing plaintiffs from all around America in lawsuits against Purdue Pharma to hold them liable for the harm they have caused. Opioid lawsuits are quite complex and require the knowledge and skill of experienced lawyers who understand mass tort laws and how the litigation process works.
By choosing to work with our experienced team of lawyers, you get to work with professionals with the experience and skills needed to handle such cases and who have in-depth knowledge of how the opioid crisis has impacted communities and individuals across the nation.
At McDonald Worley, we will evaluate your claim’s potential before providing you with our valuation of its merits. We understand that overdose lawsuits are complex and are here to help you file your claim within the accepted timeframe, so your rights to recover damages for losses you’ve suffered as a person or a community are preserved. Get in touch with us at McDonald Worley today and schedule a meeting with our attorneys to learn more about your rights and how we can help.
Get Legal Help from Professional and Experienced Attorneys
The attorneys at McDonald Worley are experienced professionals that understand the negative effects of the opioid epidemic. We strongly believe that the companies that sell opioids need to be held liable for flooding the market with these drugs that wreaked havoc on communities and individuals, and we have the legal experience and knowledge to prove liability in such complex cases.
The lawsuits our opioid addiction attorneys file make it easier for the families of those who’ve succumbed to their opioid addictions, as well as state and local governments, to seek compensation for damages. Get in touch with McDonald Worley now and schedule a meeting with us today.