Public Entities Recovering Damages Caused by the Opioid Epidemic

January 31, 2018

The United States is in the midst of a massive opioid epidemic which continues to grow in size and scope every year. Approximately 55,000 people in the United States die from a drug overdose each year, making it the leading cause of death in those under the age of 50. Of those deaths, approximately 60 percent are caused by opioids. Over the past 17 years, more than half a million people have died from drug overdoses, and during that same time frame, the overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled.

The danger of opioid painkillers lies in the fact that they are highly addictive and carry a high risk of overdose, combined with the skyrocketing numbers of opioids being prescribed across the country to treat chronic pain.

It is heartbreaking to see the toll that this epidemic is taking on not only the addicts, but the family and friends of the addicted as well. This impact goes far beyond the individuals and has created a crisis for many governmental agencies which are being taxed by the tremendous burden on public health care, drug treatment facilities, law enforcement, criminal justice, and jail expenses.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the cost of the opioid epidemic is upwards of $75 billion per year—with around $55 billion of that going toward the health and social costs related to opioid abuse and $20 billion spent in emergency department and inpatient care.

Approximately two million people in the United States are currently addicted to opioids, and more than 90 million have used a prescription painkiller in the past year. The most commonly available opioids are hydrocodone (such as Vicodin, Lorcet, or Lortab), Oxycodone (such as OxyContin, Percodan, and Roxicet), methadone, fentanyl, and morphine.

These drugs represent a widespread and far-reaching epidemic which goes far beyond the common image of an addict as a homeless man living on the streets of the big city. Indeed, this is a problem that affects individuals of all ages, races, ethnicities, education, and socioeconomic background. The largest subset of deaths due to opioids are white, working class individuals who live in rural areas, and it is precisely these small communities that are being hit the hardest as they struggle to bear the financial burden.

Creating a Crisis

Unfortunately, the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of opioid painkillers have contributed to this public health epidemic. Drug makers have promoted changes in the prescription of drugs that were once just for short periods of time to now being used to treat chronic pain. Drug manufacturers have spent millions of dollars to promote these dangerous drugs by overstating the benefits and minimizing the risks when it comes to treating chronic pain, including by providing funding to doctors, patient advocacy groups, and medical societies in order to garner support for the use of opioids for chronic pain.

Fears Nachawati Law Firm is currently representing public entities against the wholesale distributors and manufacturers of opioids in order to help recover the staggering damages they have suffered as a result of these companies creating the current opioid epidemic, and taxing publicly funded resources while they made billions. Fears Nachawati is dedicated to helping public entities, such as states, cities, counties, school districts, and more, to protect the public, defeat the opioid crisis, and to hold those accountable through the civil justice system. Fears Nachawati only represents governments at this time, and is unable to represent the individuals who have had their lives destroyed by the callous actions of these pharmaceutical companies.

Seeking Damages

Numerous public entities have begun the process of suing the wholesale distributors and manufacturers of opioids in order to receive reimbursement for government spending arising due to opioid addiction and overdoses. Defendants in these cases have included companies such as Cardinal Health, Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Teva Pharmaceutical, Watson Pharmaceuticals, McKesson Corporation, and others.

These lawsuits typically allege that these parties violated the federal Controlled Substances Act by failing to alert the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of suspicious opioid purchases that should have raised flags due to the unusual size, frequency, or pattern. They also argue that they have exaggerated the benefits of these drugs, while failing to warn doctors about the extremely addictive nature of these narcotics and the necessity to strictly limit the dose in order to avoid dependency. Finally, these lawsuits argue that the pharmaceutical companies lobbied doctors and politicians in order to increase their use, and also permitted these drugs to enter the black market.

In one particularly egregious example, there were nearly 800 million doses of opioids prescribed in Ohio in 2012, which is more than 60-times larger than the population of the state.

The public entities bringing lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies are seeking damages that include reimbursement for the cost of building and maintaining treatment facilities; reimbursing Medicaid for the treatment of addicts, including payment for unnecessarily prescribed opioids or the antidote to treat overdoses; reimbursement for the increase in law enforcement or medical personnel in response to the opioid epidemic; and the reimbursement of costs relating to prosecution and jail time for addicts.

In the past few years, there has been a number of high profile lawsuits across the country and great strides have been made in holding pharmaceutical companies responsible for helping to create the opioid epidemic. In 2017, McKesson Corporation, which is one of the largest distributors of pharmaceuticals, paid a $150 million civil penalty for violating the Controlled Substances Act when they failed to report suspicious orders for oxycodone and hydrocodone.

In the same year, Costco Wholesale reached a nearly $12 million settlement to resolve allegations that their pharmacies violated the Controlled Substances Act when they improperly filled prescriptions for opioids.

In another instance, Cardinal Health reached a $20 million settlement with the state of West Virginia due to the company’s distribution of opioids over a six-year period, where wholesalers sent 780 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills to the state, which amounts to 433 pills per resident. Meanwhile there were nearly 1,800 deaths from overdoses.

Back in 2015, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, paid a $24 million settlement to the state of Kentucky for a lawsuit accusing them of misleading the public about the addictiveness of prescription painkillers.

These settlements are only a drop in the bucket of the heavy financial burden that is hampering many public entities across the country, including right here in the state of Texas. The team at Fears Nachawati is dedicated to helping right these injustices which have destroyed families and crippled small communities.

The opioid epidemic has been weighing too heavily, and for far too long, on many communities across the country, but forecasts only predict that things will get worse. Some middle-of-the-road forecasts suggest that within another 10 years, the annual death toll from opioids will surpass the worst year of gun deaths on record, and nearly every forecast sees another 500,000 deaths from opioids over the next decade. Looking beyond the immeasurable pain and suffering caused to millions more families, the opioid epidemic will continue to weigh heavily on the U.S. economy to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

If you represent a public entity struggling under the weight of the opioid epidemic, then please contact our Opioid Rapid Response team by emailing help@fnlawfirm.com, by calling (866) 705-7584. You can also visit the offices of Fears Nachawati located throughout the great state of Texas, including Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

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