Over the last year or so, multiple towns, counties, and states have been suing big pharma companies for their part in the opioid epidemic. Just recently, Denver, CO, and 12 other Colorado cities have joined together to do just that. The goal is to force these drug companies into paying for the major financial toll that the opioid epidemic has created.
The Costs and Death Toll
According to the Denver Post, opioid painkillers had taken a documented 357 lives in Denver alone in the year 2017. This has been happening all over the country, and state and local lawmakers are struggling to keep up financially. The city reports that so far, the data indicated that more people died from drug overdoses last year than car crashes, and they haven’t even gotten a complete list of autopsy reports back yet.
- Between 2012 and 2014, Denver reported 346 emergency room visits and 360 hospitalizations for prescription opioids.
- 37% of the cities 163 overdose deaths were due to prescription opioids in 2015
- The state of Colorado reported 558 opioid deaths in 2017
- In 2017, there were a reported 7,461,760 controlled prescriptions dispensed in Colorado
A study performed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment discovered that not only were people being prescribed opioid prescriptions at all ages but as the ages increased, so did the amounts of opioid prescriptions per each individual. For example:
- Coloradans aged 14 and younger: 86% of the pool had 1 opioid prescription. 12% of the pool had 2 or 3 opioid prescriptions
- Coloradans aged 15-24: 73% of the pool had 1 opioid prescription, 22% had 2 to 3 opioid prescriptions, and 5% had 4 or more.
- Coloradans aged 35-44: 60% had 1 opioid prescription, 25% had 2 or 3, and 15% had 4 or more opioid prescriptions
- Coloradans aged 45-54: 48% had 1 opioid prescription, 24% had 2 or 3, and 27% had 4 or more opioid prescriptions
- Coloradans aged 55 and older: 42% had one opioid prescription, 24% had 2 or 3, and a whopping 35% had 4 or more opioid prescriptions
Not only is Big Pharma at fault for funneling massive amounts of opioids into the state, but prescribing practices are also taken into consideration here.
The 13 local governments will be working together, following suit with hundreds of other U.S. state and local governments, to ignite this lawsuit for major drug companies to pay back for the financial damages that the opioid epidemic has caused.
The Colorado counties involved in this lawsuit will be Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, El Paso, Jefferson, and Teller counties, Broomfield, Aurora, Black Hawk, Commerce City, Northglenn, and Hudson.
The big pharma defendants include McKesson Corporation, Johnson and Johnson, Purdue Pharma, and several others. These three major companies are also being sued by other states such as Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, California, and Kentucky.
Denver has so far been spearheading the lawsuit and has been reaching out to private law firms to assist in the litigation. So far, August appears to be the tentative date for any complaints to be filed officially.
The suit will accuse big pharma companies of targeting “susceptible prescribers and vulnerable patient populations by making false and misleading statements about opioid prescription drugs, including oxycodone and hydrocodone,” reports the Pueblo Chieftain.
However, representatives of McKesson and other companies are in no way owning up to or admitting fault in the opioid crisis. The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, which is a trade association that represents these companies, states,
“The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served by addressing the root causes, rather than trying to blame through litigation.”
The Fault of Big Pharma
Attorney Kristen Bronson reports that the opioid crisis has cost Denver millions of dollars in healthcare fees, not to mention the police and EMT hours that have gone into saving as many lives as possible. She also reports that more people have been committing illegal acts to fuel their addiction, which has resulted in higher prison populations.
“Large opioid companies knew more about the risks of addiction with these drugs than they admitted, we do believe there is culpability,” states Bronson.
The other communities in Colorado, and the other states in the nation that are suing big pharmaceutical companies share her sentiment. However, for other states that have already begun litigation with big pharma companies, it hasn’t been an outright landslide of positive results. There are huge umbrella protection laws set in place for pharmaceutical companies, and it is difficult to prove fault without outright evidence of bribery, misconduct, or negligence from these companies.
Other Methods of Change
Since the announcement of the opioid crisis being National Health Emergency, dozens of states and local lawmakers have been contributing ideas and approaches to regulate the amount of opioid prescriptions that are actually hitting the streets, as well as boosting awareness and safer alternatives to opioid medications.
For example, the National Prescription Database has been revamped, which requires all controlled medications to be registered in the system by the prescriber, to allow tracking of the prescriber, the patient, the prescription, and the dosage. This is intended to inhibit doctor shopping and unsafe prescribing practices.
Alongside that, many state governments have put maximum prescribed amounts of opioid prescriptions on patients with mild to moderate pain, rather than the previously allotted month-long supply. For example, where previously, a patient with a sprained ankle could receive a months supply of 10 mg oxycodone, they are now able to receive no more than a 3-7 day supply.
For patients who have chronic pain, such as cancer, there have been no indications that the access to painkillers will decrease. So far, a lot of discussions are taking place, and a lot of lawsuits are being filed, but we have yet to see any decline in the overdose death rates from the opioid crisis.
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