There is no doubt that America is experiencing an opioid crisis with thousands of citizens addicted to pills and overdosing being commonplace. Now, the enemy has been identified and attorney generals of 41 states are joining forces to take on the opioid industry.
Through the bipartisan coalition, chief legal officers across the 41 states will pool resources to determine whether some the companies engaged in any unlawful practices in the marketing and distribution of prescription drugs.
It’s a major expansion of existing investigations into the nationwide opioid epidemic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told New York Daily News.
Opioid abuse is rampant in many states with tens of thousands of people killed every year. Statistics paint a dire picture.
For example, this is chilling:
In 2012, there were 793 million doses of opioids prescribed in the state, enough to supply every man, woman, and child, with 68 pills each. And that is just one state – Ohio.
History repeats itself
This will not be the first time that authorities take to the courts to force industry to take responsibility for what seems to be the outcome of unethical practices: a public health epidemic in the form of opioid dependency. Mike Moore, the lawyer who spearheaded the case against Big Tobacco in 1994, and negotiated the biggest corporate legal settlement in U.S. is spearheading a similar lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry.
Moore says the industry understated how addictive the painkillers could be.
“They said there was a study that showed that less than 1 percent of people taking opioids would get addicted if under a doctor’s care. That turned out to be a big lie — just wasn’t true,” Moore told CBS News.
“They misled the American public. They misled the doctors in this country. Many of the doctors were duped. And frankly, I think they misled the FDA.”
In 1994, Moore filed the first civil lawsuit against the tobacco industry for misrepresenting the dangers of smoking. He was Mississippi’s attorney general. Forty-six states eventually joined him and they won the largest class action settlement in history: $246 billion, CBS News reminds us.
Now Moore’s pushing for a similar class-action suit against the pharmaceutical industry. So far, he will be joined by 40 states.
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This is what hurts so much:
“For millions of Americans, their addiction did not begin in a back alley with a tourniquet and a syringe. They got hooked on medicine they were prescribed for pain or that they found in a medicine cabinet,” Schneiderman said.
“Some states have more opioid prescriptions than they have residents, which is really mid-boggling,” he continued.
The attorneys general served subpoenas on the following pharmaceutical manufacturers and subsidiaries: Endo International; Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd./Cephalon Inc.; Allergan Inc. and Purdue Pharma.
Three companies that together manage approximately 90% of the nation’s opioid distribution, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health were also served papers. They earn nearly $500 billion a year in revenue, the attorney generals said.
Within the past year, at least 25 states, cities and counties have filed civil cases against manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains that make up the $13 billion-a-year opioid industry, reports the Washington Post.
The lawsuits are built on the following position: “The suits allege that the companies triggered the opioid epidemic by minimizing the addiction and overdose risk of painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Duragesic. Opioids don’t just cause problems when they’re misused, the suits argue: They do so when used as directed, too.”
The Washington Post adds: “The lawsuits come as states and communities grapple with the economic impact of a prescription drug epidemic that has resulted in nearly 180,000 overdose deaths between 2000 and 2015 — more than three times the number of Americans who died during the Vietnam War. The epidemic has led to thousands more deaths from overdoses of heroin and fentanyl, which are becoming easier and cheaper to obtain than prescription drugs.”