The Opioid Epidemic

Every 12 minutes another American dies from an opioid overdose.[1]According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.”[2]

If you or a loved one were prescribed an opioid painkiller and suffered an opioid related injury, contact our office today. You may be entitled to significant compensation.

Common Injuries Related to Opioid Pain Killers

  1. Overdose: Prescription opioid overdoses often result in the patient’s death. Patients who suffer a non-fatal prescription opioid overdose often experience permanent injuries including damage to the brain and/or heart.
  2. Addiction: Opioid addiction often leads to the need for drug addiction rehabilitation, causes loss of employment, criminal arrests, and other circumstances and events that devastate the individual patient and their family. The devastating effects of prescription opioid addiction often become exacerbated when patients who are prescribed opioid pain killers can no longer obtain prescription opioids and as a last resort turn to illegal opioids such as heroin. In fact, according to the CDC, three out of four new heroin users report using prescription opioids prior to using heroin.

The Epidemic Was Caused by Greed

Prescription opioids like Morphine, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Methadone, and Fentanyl are chemically similar to heroin.[3]Like heroin, these prescription opioids create a euphoric high in users and are highly addictive. Despite knowing of their chemical similarity to heroin, however, the drug companies who manufacture and sell these potent pain killers sought and obtained approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to market prescription opioids for the treatment of anything from “moderate to severe pain.”

Before 1980, doctors were reluctant to prescribe opioid medications due to fear of addiction and overdose. As a result, drug companies did not see significant profits from the sale of prescription opioids. In 1996, however, prescriptions for opioid painkillers began to skyrocket. “As Dr. Andrew Kolodny of Brandeis University has explained, ‘[i]f you look at the prescribing trends for all the different opioids, it’s in 1996 that prescribing really takes off … It’s not a coincidence. That was the year Purdue launched a multifaceted campaign that misinformed the medical community about the risks [of OxyContin].’”[4]

As part of its marketing plan, Purdue used “‘speakers programs’—in which the company paid physicians to discuss OxyContin with their colleagues—to boost sales of the drug.” Unfortunately, the paid “speakers programs,” pioneered by Purdue and now widely used by drug companies to market prescription opioids, often lack any information about the risks of prescription opioids and fail to disclose to attendees that the programs are sponsored by the drug companies.[5]

In addition to using paid speakers to drive prescription opioid sales, Purdue pushed its sales representatives to satisfy aggressive quotas and offered substantial bonuses for sales reps who could convince doctors to prescribe higher doses. An investigation conducted by the U.S. Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee found, “This interplay between compensation—for physicians on the one hand and their assigned sales representatives on the other—drove explosive growth. By the fifth year of OxyContin sales, the drug generated more than $1 billion in annual revenue for the company. In 2001 alone, ‘Purdue paid $40 million in sales incentive bonuses to its sales representatives.’”[6]

Opioid prescriptions soared in the years after Purdue launched its aggressive prescription opioid marketing plan. Data collected by the CDC shows thatin 2012 U.S. doctors wrote more than 259 million opioid prescriptions – enough to give every American adult his/her/their own bottle of prescription opioids.[7]

According to the U.S. Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee’s investigation, Insys Therapeutics, Inc. used the same aggressive marketing strategy to sell its fentanyl product Subsys. Insys sales representatives were taught to exploit the addictive quality of prescription opioids and view patients as “annuities.”[8]For example, in a November, 2012 email to the company’s sales representatives, Insys executive, Alec Burlakoff, wrote:

“It is much easier to take an existing patient and double their units(which in essence is the same as generating a new prescription). The patient has already been through the PA process, it is ‘low hanging fruit.’ . . . let’s take the existing writers and create a habit of he or she using Subsys 4 times a day (as intended)as opposed to the prescriber ‘sprinkling’ a little Subsys on top of the patient’s current medications. THIS IS THE NEXT BIG STEP.”

In another email Burlakoff outlined the company’s policy to help its sales representatives maintain newly generated Subsys patients:

“The goal is to generate Subsys patients whom [sic] believe in the safety and efficacy behind this product, hence these patients will continuously refill their monthly prescriptions indefinitely. This of course equates to residual income for you![9]

The marketing strategies implemented by drug companies like Purdue and Insys have without a doubt been extremely effective. It is these marketing strategies, which use paid doctors to promote prescription opioids without disclosing the associated risks, and encourage sales representatives to capitalize on the addictive nature of opioids to create patients who “will continuously refill their monthly prescriptions indefinitely” that are responsible for the opioid epidemic. It is not your fault.

We are Here to Help

Hundreds of opioid lawsuits have been filed around the country by Plaintiffs injured as a result of the opioid epidemic. The attorneys at Canepa Riedy Abele are currently investigating lawsuits on behalf of patients and their families who have been injured by prescription opioids.

If you or a loved one were prescribed an opioid painkiller and suffered an opioid related injury, contact our office today. You may be entitled to significant compensation.

To learn more about your legal options, please contact us for a free consultation.

[1]CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality. CDC Wonder, Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2017.

[2]https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html

[3]https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

[4]U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee Minority Staff Report, “Fueling an Epidemic, Report Four: Inside the Insys Strategy for Boosting Fentanyl Sales available at  https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Fueling%20an%20Epidemic%20-%20Inside%20the%20Insys%20Strategy%20for%20Boosting%20Fentanyl%20Sales.pdf

[5]Id.

[6]Id.

[7]https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/opioid-prescribing/index.html

[8]U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee Minority Staff Report, “Fueling an Epidemic, Report Four: Inside the Insys Strategy for Boosting Fentanyl Sales.

[9]Id.

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