Opioid Lawsuits: The Fight Against Prescription Pain-Killers
Addiction to Opioid Narcotic Drugs Spreads Throughout the Nation
Thousands of Americans have been touched by the nationwide crisis of opioid addiction. Opioids are powerful prescription medications intended to give pain relief. Despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about the dangers of opioid painkillers, drug companies continue to market and doctors continue to prescribe narcotics to patients.
Over-prescribed pain-killers lead to serious addiction problems, health complications, and overdoses (sometimes resulting in death.) The result has been that the U.S., while making up less than 5% of the world population, uses 80%of prescribed opioids. Drugmakers continue to reap sales projected next year to hit $15.3 billion. What’s even worse, many users have switched to the cheaper and easily accessible drug heroin.
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Why are Prescription Pain-killers so Dangerous?
Opioids are CNS depressant drugs, which means that they slow down the part of the brain that controls breathing. When patients are given an excessive dose of painkillers, they may suffer an overdose and lapse into respiratory depression. Death can result, usually because breathing stops. You can even die from an opioid overdose even if you take the medication as prescribed.
According to the CDC, consumers spend four times as much money on opioids than they did in 1999, and approximately 40 Americans die each day due to opioid overdoses.
People who use opioids regularly soon develop tolerance to the effects. As a result, they need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect.
As the amount taken increases so does the risk of overdose or other harmful side effects. If people stop taking the drug, they lose their tolerance. If they then resume taking the same amount they had taken before they stopped, there is an extreme risk of overdose.
Most Commonly Prescribed Opioid Painkillers
- Vicodin (sold generically under the name hydrocodone)
- OvyContin (sold generically as oxycodone)
- Dilaudid (sold generically under the name Hydromorphone)
- Duragesic or fentanyl pain patch (sold generically under the names Sandoz, Watson, and Mylan)
When the Medical Industry and Physicians Fail Us
Unfortunately, addictions and narcotic abuse happen to normal people.
Many of us put a high amount of trust in our physicians and medical staff to efficiently diagnose and prescribe medication when we are sick, and we don’t think twice about it. Here is a classic example of how potent and highly addictive prescription painkillers can be.
- Mr. Smith was injured at work and began taking prescribed oxycodone for the pain from his primary physician. After three months, the original dose prescribed no longer controlled his pain, and Mr. Smith began gradually increasing the dose and subsequently running out of his medication earlier than anticipated. After failed attempts to cut down on his medications and discussions with his primary care physician on his increased use of oxycodone, Mr. Smith’s primary physician stopped prescribing him medication.
- Inevitably Mr. Smith ran out of his medication and woke up sweating profusely, with diarrhea, nausea, bone aches and pains, and anxiety. The next morning, he experienced unyielding urges to use oxycodone, and he made three appointments with different physicians successfully obtaining prescriptions from all 3 of them. Also, he began buying “blue proxies (an informal term for Oxycodone 30-mg tablets) from a neighbor, soon after he learned to crush the medication and ingest it improperly making the onset faster and more satisfying.
- The ending result, Mr. Smith, lost his job, stopped engaging in hobbies he once enjoyed, developed depression, a poor appetite, and no sex drive, preferred to stay isolated, and became violently ill when he didn’t have enough pills. Mr. Smith lost his income, well-being, and social life because his primary physician prescribed him oxycodone for an injury caused at work.
Who Is The Culprit For Pain-Killer Abuse?
This sad and tragic craze was fueled by the greedy pockets of medical industry leaders and drug maker corporations. Regrettably, manufacturers have known for years’ opioids are an addictive and debilitating drug, yet still wanted to promote the market and demand higher sales.
Drugmakers recruited doctors who would give scripted talks about their benefits and trained their sales forces to push drugs to doctors treating back pain, downplaying their risks for such uses. One example is the drug OxyContin, released in 1996. Sales exploded from 40 million to approximately $1 billion in just five years.
One of the biggest problems originating with opioids is drug makers encouraged these powerful painkillers for relatively mild discomfort rather than for patients suffering unmanageable pain. This quickly resulted in physicians continuously prescribing painkillers to their patients; increasing their risks of addiction, overdose, or other health complications.
Common Drug Companies:
- Purdue Pharma
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
- Johnson and Johnson
- Endo Health Solutions
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Medical Malpractice and prescription painkillers
The following are examples of medical malpractice when doctors negligently prescribe prescription painkillers that may injure, harm, or even cause death to patients.
- Some physicians place patients on high doses of painkillers when unnecessary, putting them at risk of an overdose
- Patients are treated with these drugs for longer than necessary, increasing the likelihood that they may become addicted
- Patients are not a proper candidate for a particular opioid painkiller, but it’s prescribed to them anyway (e.g. patients suffer from conditions such as sleep apnea and pulmonary problems) which make the use of opioid painkillers very dangerous.
- Patients are switched from one powerful painkiller to another by their doctor (practice is known as opioid rotation) may also face serious health risks, either from an interaction between two drugs, or because a new medication is much stronger than the old.
Pain Killer Class Actions
Luckily, people are becoming more educated and aware of the dangerous effects caused by narcotic opioids. Increasing numbers of lawsuits are being filed each year by patients who have suffered an overdose or other potentially deadly side effect. More and more manufacturers are being held liable for their negligent actions and being forced to pay millions back to suffering and injured plaintiffs.
In 2007, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (at the time, attorney general of Connecticut), the Democrat filed a lawsuit and won against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, over its contribution to opioid addiction. Purdue Pharma was being sued for marketing OxyContin for off-label uses, and instructing doctors to use the medication in ways other than approved by the FDA. E.g., doctors, were prescribing their patients to take the drug every 8 hours instead of the recommended use of every 12 hours.
Also, Purdue failed to include the drugs risks of abuse and misuse when marketing OxyContin. In the end, Purdue Pharma agreed to act more responsibly and decided to pay $19.5 million in damages plus refrain form marketing the drug for off-label purposes.
Slowly manufacturers are beginning to take steps in admitting their role in addressing the opioid problem. One significant effort was promoting the development of abuse-deterrent pain medications; already Purdue Pharma reported developing a new series of abuse-deterrent OxyContin.
Also, Buprenorphine was formulated and released to the market. Helping people addicted to heroin or other opiates by relieving the symptoms of opiate withdrawal such as agitation, nausea, and insomnia. It’s designed to be significantly less addicting and has a lower risk of overdose than methadone.
Even though prescribers and medical manufacturers are beginning to make changes, the opioid abuse and heroin overdoses have clearly reached a tipping point. In the past decade, other companies have manufactured opioid painkillers, and heroin has become cheaper and acting as a quick substitute for people who are already addicted.
After a decade of optimistic reform towards painkillers evidence still surrounds our nation that this dangerous epidemic is far from shutting down.
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The Brown Firm Can Help
If you or a loved one has been a victim of the severe complications caused by the use of opioid painkillers, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit.
The Georgia Medical Malpractice Attorneys at The Brown Firm represent people who have been injured or died due to negligent care by a medical professional or medical institution.
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