As for as how opioids kill people, medical studies indicate that people simply stop breathing when they take too much of an opioid drug. The more you take, the less your body has an urge to breathe and many overdoses happen because the person taking the drug does not know how much they are taking.
Studies have also shown that doctors who are not pain specialist often have trouble administering the correct dosage of opioid pain medication to their patients. Some prescribe too high a dosage to their patients, putting them at risk of an overdose. In other cases, patients are treated with opioid painkillers for a longer period than necessary, increasing the likelihood that they will become addicted to the drug.
A Brief History of Opioid Painkillers
Before the 1980s, doctors prescribed opioids for patients dealing with short-term pain and for end-of-life care. Then, based on misinformation regarding the potential for opioid abuse and their addictive qualities, doctors began to prescribe opioids on a much wider basis.
Shortly after, pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma began to develop their own brand of opioid medications and to market these drugs to doctors in high-end publications. They even went so far as to start nonprofit groups to push for the use of opioids to treat long-term chronic pain, even though there was no scientific evidence and no studies to support the idea that opioids should be used long-term.
In 1995, Purdue Pharma’s opioid painkiller, OxyContin was approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The sale of this new drug began in 1996 and by the end of its first year, it had already produced a $45 million profit for its manufacturer. Today, Purdue Pharma rakes in more than $3 billion per year from sales of OxyContin.
The problem is, while Purdue Pharma has been busy counting its profits, it has also been busy ignoring the burgeoning number of deaths attributed to the drug. Many patients went to their doctors for pain relief, only to wind up saddled with a severe and disabling addiction which, in too many cases, resulted in abuse, overdose, and death.
In 2009, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 14,000 deaths were linked to overdoses caused by the use of prescription painkillers, double the number of deaths just a decade earlier. Today, 44 people in the United States die every day because they overdosed on an opioid. In fact, opioid painkillers are now considered one of the countries most deadly causes of death.
OxyContin is just one of several opioid painkillers on the market that has been causing addictions and overdoses. Other opioid painkillers that are frequently prescribed include:
- Vicodin (Hydrocodone)
- OxyContin (Oxycodone)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Percocet (Acetaminophen and Oxycodone)
The Opioid Epidemic
Opioid painkillers produced by companies like Purdue Pharma and others have ruined lives by aggressively marketing these highly addictive drugs as being safe. But, adding to the problem is the fact that they can be obtained legally and relatively easily. Doctors in the United States prescribe opioids too liberally and have been doing so for decades.
When those who have become addicted to prescription painkillers can no longer get them legitimately, they turn to the black market to purchase them or they switch to heroin, which is also and opioid but actually much cheaper than prescription opioids. In fact, according to studies, around 80% of those who try heroin report that the first opioid they tried was a prescription painkiller.
While there are other countries who have opioid problems, Americans purchase approximately 80% of the world’s supply of opioids and Americans abuse them more than anywhere else.
In 2014, an estimated 2 million Americans had an opioid abuse disorder, including using prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet.
The number of people who die from opioid abuse is as alarming as it is heartbreaking. From 2001 to 2014, the number of deaths attributed to opioid overdoses increased by a factor of 6. In 2016, 17,500 people overdosed on prescription painkillers. This number represents a rise of 23% from 2015, making 2016 the deadliest year so far.
- Tennessee has the second highest rate of opioid prescription in the United States.
- Almost 72% of all overdose deaths in Tennessee in 2015 involved opioids.
Despite these statistics, opioids continue to be prescribed and sold to unsuspecting patients and many, who because they become addicted to these drugs, will face life-long consequences, adverse medical conditions, and even death.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (N.A.S.)
Women are also overdosing on opioid painkillers at an alarming rate. In fact, studies show that women are more likely than men to be prescribed an opioid for pain. The women who become addicted to opioid painkillers include those who are pregnant, and as a result, a growing number of babies born in the United States enter the world addicted to opioids.
Mothers who abuse opioid painkillers while they are pregnant expose their unborn babies to the opioid as well. Many of these babies are born suffering from withdrawal symptoms. This is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (N.A.S.). Studies show that there was a five-fold increase in the number of babies born in the U.S. with N.A.S. between 2000 and 2012.
Tennessee, as mentioned above, has the second highest rate of opioid prescription in the nation. Not surprisingly, it also has one of the highest rates of N.A.S. in the nation.
- The rate of Tennessee babies born with N.A.S. is triple the national average, or approximately 16.1 babies per 1000 births, whereas the national average is 5.8 per 1000 births.
- The overwhelming majority (80%) of N.A.S. cases in Tennessee involve mothers who have had a valid prescription for an opioid written for them.
In many of these cases, what started off as a legitimate need for a prescription painkiller, quickly devolved into abuse with an innocent baby becoming the ultimate victim.
Nationwide Opioid Litigation
The tremendous surge in deaths related to prescription opioids and the growing number of babies being born with N.A.S. has generated a wave of lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids. According to lawsuits being filed across the nation, these companies were undeniably aware of how addictive their drugs were.
Furthermore, they were aware that overdoses and death were quite frequent among those who become addicted to opioids. However, they did nothing to caution the public with regards to what their own research revealed to them.
Pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer who manufacture, market, and sell opioid painkillers have been accused of misleading the public about the dangers associated with the long-term use of these drugs to treat chronic and severe pain.
They are also alleged to have withheld information from the public and even created false nonprofit organizations to promote the use of opioid painkillers for chronic and severe pain, even though there was no scientific evidence or studies to support the idea that opioids should be used long-term.
Finally, these lawsuits claim that because pharmaceutical companies withheld information from the public, the cost of treating people who have become addicted to prescription painkiller as well as babies being born with N.A.S. has become the taxpayer’s burden, since most health insurance plans don’t cover treatment for addictions.
In 2010 alone, for every one person who overdosed on an opioid, there were hundreds of others who used prescription opioids illicitly or who had become addicted them, costing an estimated $4,350,000 in healthcare related costs.
Counties and municipalities around the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies to hold them accountable for the opioid crises in their areas. Ohio filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson, alleging that the companies spent millions on marketing campaigns that “trivialized the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain”. Lawsuits have also been filed in Mississippi, Illinois, Washington, California, and New York.
Tennessee Opioid Litigation
A new lawsuit in Tennessee seeks to address the rate of Tennessee babies born with N.A.S. by suing three national pharmaceutical companies whom they claim are responsible for the opioid epidemic in Tennessee. This lawsuit alleges that the efforts of Purdue Pharma and other drug manufacturers to mislead doctors and the general public with regards to the addictive nature of their opioid drugs created an epidemic across the state and in Northeast Tennessee particularly.
The lawsuit was filed against Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt PLC (the manufacture of an array of opioid painkillers), and Endo Health Solutions (which manufactures and sells a number of opioid painkillers, including Opana), as well as, a Tennessee clinic and two convicted opioid dealers. The lawsuit, according to Tennessee lawmakers, seeks millions of dollars in compensation and is the first of many to come.
The Tennessee lawsuit was filed on behalf of Baby Doe, whose mother abused opioids during her pregnancy. The baby’s exposure to opioids in utero provides him with the right to sue for damages under the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability act (DDL).
The Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act allows those who were responsible for unlawfully furnishing drugs to a pregnant woman to be held financially liable if the child is born with birth defects or any other health conditions related to the mother’s use of the drugs. In these cases, the law will be applied to not only go after the typical “drug dealers,” but also the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture opioids and whose aggressive marketing and misleading tactics created the opioid crisis, as well as, the clinics whose irresponsible dispensing of opioids facilitated the crisis.
Nashville Tennessee Opioid Litigation Lawyers At Keith Williams Law Group
Whether for you or a loved one, the cost of treating an opioid drug addiction is expensive and most likely will not be covered by your insurance plan. Fighting for the cost of your medical expenses is not something you want to leave to chance or attempt without the help of an experienced professional.
Hiring an experienced attorney today is your best way to maximize your compensation. Through decades of excellent service, our attorneys have set the standard for medical malpractice in Nashville. We will fight on your behalf to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.
If you have fallen victim to opioid addiction, experienced an overdose, or had a child born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome as a result of your addiction to opioids, Call Keith Williams Law Group today to discuss your situation and to find out if you are eligible to file a lawsuit. Strict deadlines apply, so contact us today. Call toll-free at (866) 820-4457, or leave us message here to arrange a free consultation.