America has an opioid problem. The epidemic has resulted in addictions, deaths caused by drug overdose, and economic burden that totals $78.5 billion. Although drug makers have been sued by cities, states, and other agencies, the lawsuit filed by Dallas-based litigation firm Simon Greenstone Panetier & Bartlett in behalf of Upshur County is the first in Texas to hold drug makers responsible for the epidemic.
The lawsuit claims that deceptive practices by drug makers have created a marketplace that is both lucrative and illicit where pharmacy record falsification, prescription forging, and doctor shopping is a common occurrence. It also claims that an increase in heroin use is linked to the widespread use of opioids as addicted users turn to the other due to the unavailability of prescription drugs. The epidemic has also driven resident’s healthcare costs up.
Many residents of Upshur County have also cited opioid addiction as one of the reasons they sought treatment for substance abuse.
Opioid use doesn’t just affect the lives of those who use it, but their family as well. In Upshur County, parental drug addiction has caused a rise in children being placed in child protection agencies.
Dean Fowler, an Upshur County judge, said that the lawsuit’s goal was “to recoup the cost of the opioid epidemic.” The money used to treat opioid addicts come out of taxpayers’ pockets, and that the “cost to the public is very high.”
Jeffrey B. Simon, a Dallas attorney, says in the lawsuit that the epidemic “did not occur by chance.”
The lawsuit names more than 20 defendants, including Abbot Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Inc., and Purdue Pharma Inc. These companies manufacture brand-name drugs, such as Avinza (no longer sold in the market), Opana, OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone, and Vicodin. Generic varieties such as hydrocodone and oxymorphone are being made as well. Some of these defendants also manufacture, market, distribute, and sell prescription opioids, such as fentanyl, Duragesic, Fentora, Ultracet, and Ultram.
The more than 20 defendants named in the lawsuit are all accused of using altering the view of doctors on opioids in the late 1990s and early 2000s through a “well-funded deceptive marketing scheme.” Drug makers use sales representatives and physicians – their “key opinion leaders”– to promote highly addictive opioids through souvenirs and toys that include, among others, bags, coffee cups, notepads, pens, and stuffed plush toys – all these bearing the name of the opioid brand.
The lawsuit also states that drug makers utilized “front groups” to help key opinion leaders negatively tinge continuing medical education programs, medical conferences and seminars, scientific articles, and treatment guidelines – sources that doctors and patients turn to for guidance.
After individual and coordinated efforts, the defendants also convinced doctors that opioids were “required in the compassionate treatment of chronic pain” rather than inform them of it being addictive and unsafe for long-term use.
The lawsuit claims that drug makers even upped their advertising costs compared to the previous decade. One advertisement showed how a writer used opioids to cure osteoarthritis but neglected to mention its risks.
A co-counsel of Simon, Jack Walker of the Martin Walker law firm, plans to file a similar lawsuit in the counties they represent.