Opioids are a precarious solution for pain relief. Despite being openly referred to as “heroin’s cousin,” opioid-based painkillers are aggressively marketed as stronger, longer lasting solutions for chronic pain.
Lawmakers across the nation are cracking down on the opioid crisis and the manufacturers who may have played a role in creating it. One of the main pharmaceutical companies under review is Purdue Pharmaceuticals.
States Suing Opioid Manufacturers
- New York
- Puerto Rico
As of July 2, 26 states have filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharmaceuticals. The states include Alabama, California, Connecticut and Florida, among others.
In addition, several Native American tribes have taken legal action for overstating the benefits and downplaying the risks of addiction and abuse of their flagship product: Oxycontin. One of those tribes is the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.
Oxycontin: Thinly Veiled Threat
The chief opioid of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, OxyContin, has brought in over $35 billion in revenue since its release in 1996. OxyContin was marketed aggressively as a longer, more powerful alternative to other pain relievers with a 12-hour duration of continuous relief.
Unfortunately, Oxycontin’s safety claims were too good to be true.
In 2016, the LA Times reported Oxycontin wears off early and creates withdrawal-like symptoms in users. Additionally, it was found that the company has been confronted with evidence from doctors, reports from its own sales reps and independent research demonstrating the drug’s addictive qualities.
According to an analysis of nationwide prescription data conducted for the LA Times, more than half of long-term OxyContin users were found to be receiving doses that public health officials consider dangerously high, with withdrawal symptoms appearing after stopping the drug.
Withdrawal signs include body aches, nausea, anxiety and other symptoms of withdrawal, such as increased cravings. When the symptoms are relieved by the next dose, it soothes the added pain by creating a sense of euphoria that fosters addiction.
Purdue Pharmaceuticals knew about “significant” abuse of OxyContin in the first years after the drug’s introduction in 1996 and, according to the New York Times, concealed that information from the government and the public. In fact, in order to preserve the 12-hour selling point of Oxycontin, Purdue told doctors to prescribe stronger doses, not more frequent ones, when patients complained that relief doesn’t last for 12 hours.
Purdue’s Responds to Opioid Lawsuits
Purdue Pharmaceuticals has responded to the recent lawsuits with an almost routine answer that their company is not responsible for drug abuse and that the fault lies with consumers. Despite this, Purdue has been fighting lawsuits since 2004 over mislabelling product, aggressively suppressing addiction information, and even misleading their own sales representatives in order to push Oxycontin into the hands of unwitting consumers.
Despite their continuous denial, suspicions have been raised about Purdue Pharmaceuticals involvement in the opioid crisis. The company reportedly paid hundreds of millions for ignoring increases in opioid purchases, using aggressive sales tactics despite clear evidence of abuse and black market sale, and selling the product to clinics that engaged in a myriad of unethical practices including using homeless individuals as “patients.”
More damning, a federal lawsuit in 2007 resulted in misdemeanor charges of misbranding and deception for the president, top lawyer, and former chief medical officer of Perdue Pharmaceuticals. In the investigation, it was discovered that Purdue had learned from focus groups with physicians in 1995 about the abuse potential of OxyContin. The company then gave false information to sales representatives that Oxycontin had less potential for addiction and abuse than other painkillers.
When the state of Tennessee filed a lawsuit earlier this year, Purdue attempted to hide dozens of paragraphs when it was released to the public. These paragraphs contained information that Purdue argued was privileged.
The information in question included details about sales calls to customers, Purdue staffing in Tennessee, pill sales in the state, how frequently its sales representatives visited individual healthcare providers, statewide sales and revenue information, and proprietary marketplace research on which sales tactics proved most effective.
All of this information could be considered proof that Purdue knowingly helped supply those addicted to their opioids and did nothing to combat their addiction.
States Fight Opioid Crisis
Though Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ unethical distribution of opioids to consumers is concerning, lawmakers nationwide are dropping the hammer. Attorney Generals have stated that they’re not planning on settling for settlements. They want permanent change.
“You always want to settle and prevent a prolonged litigation, but we’re sending a message that we’re fully prepared to go to war,” said Florida’s General Attorney, Pam Bondi.
Texas’ Attorney General is calling for an injunction on Purdue on any and all dealings in Texas in addition to significant financial settlements for those affected by opioid dependence.
The lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals is scheduled to be heard by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio, in March 2019. More localized lawsuits will take place in May 2019 and into 2020.
Ahead of this, Purdue Pharmaceuticals is attempting to take steps to improve their public standing before the court date. In Canada, Purdue will no longer market to physicians and only give information as a “reactionary response.” Additionally, Purdue Pharmaceuticals has announced that they will no longer pursue marketing directed at physicians.
Through these combined efforts, lawmakers and consumers alike hope to put an end to the unethical sale of highly addictive opioids to consumers. The united efforts will hopefully strike a serious blow to the spread of the opioid epidemic in North America.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash