Daily, there is something in the news regarding the opioid epidemic that the U.S. is facing. For years this has been a growing issue, affecting thousands of people. But who is to blame? There are multiple lawsuits for several reasons against companies the public believes should be held responsible for the opioid epidemic and many becoming addicted to opioids, therefore the reason the opioid lawsuits have become so large. Find out more information regarding who people are claiming are fueling the epidemic and what events have taken place within this developing mass tort.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a type of pharmaceutical drug that triggers the nerve cells in the brain and body to relieve pain from mild to severe. They also act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects on the patient. Therefore to get legal versions of opioids, a licensed medical professional or doctor must prescribe the drug. In addition to providing pain relief, they also produce a type of euphoria which can become attractive to users and eventually lead to addiction.

The following are the most common opioids:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Butorphanol
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone

How are they Harmful?

There are many unfortunate side effects to the over-consumption of opioids. The following are the most common injuries people are claiming in the opioid lawsuits:

  • Tolerance With Continued Use
  • Dependence With Continued Use
  • Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS)
  • Addiction
  • Overdose
  • Death

The following are ways people can misuse opioids and become addicted:

  • Taking the medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed
  • Beginning to take someone else’s prescription medication but not having a prescription of their own
  • Taking the medicine for the effect it causes, to get ‘high’

Additionally, side effects of opioids to the body before and after addiction can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria
  • Slowed breathing
  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes
  • Uncontrollable twitching
  • Severe cravings

Opioid Timeline

The following is a timeline of events that have taken place over the years regarding opioid development, sales, lawsuits, settlements, and other related events:

  • 1924 – The Anti-Heroin Act bans the production and sale of heroin in the United States.
  • 1995 – OxyContin, a long-acting version of oxycodone, which slowly releases the drug over 12 hours, is introduced and aggressively marketed as a safer pain pill by manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.
  • 2007 –The federal government brings criminal charges against Purdue Pharma for misleadingly advertising OxyContin as safer and less addictive than other opioids.
  • 2015 –The DEA announces that it has arrested 280 people, including 22 doctors and pharmacists, after a 15-month sting operation centered on health care providers who overprescribed opioids.
  • 2017: McKesson settled all civil charges with a payment of $150 million for not following an effective strategy of monitoring suspicious orders, allowing too many opioid orders to go through. This negligence is in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Settlements:

  • 2018: McKesson will pay $37 million to West Virginia over a period of 5 years for shipping over 100 million opioid doses into small towns throughout the state.
  • January 2019 – A court filing in a Massachusetts lawsuit reveals that members of the Sackler family, who also owns Purdue Pharma, misled doctors, and patients about the dangers of OxyContin.
  • April 2019: Former executive officers of Rochester Drug Coop as well as the company itself is charged with unlawful distribution of opioids. They will pay $20 million to the government while the former executives face up to 15 years in jail each.
  • June 2019: Insys was prosecuted for violating the False Claims Act because of the unlawful monetary kickbacks it was giving health professionals to encourage them to prescribe Subsys. They then settled for a payment of $225 million to avoid criminal and civil investigations. The Insys CEO Kapoor was also sentenced to 66 months in prison.
  • June 2019: Oklahoma began suing Purdue accusing them of aggressively marketing opioids they knew were addicting. A $270 million settlement was made with Purdue Pharma and an $85 million settlement with Teva Pharmaceuticals.
  • July 2019: The largest opioid settlement in history took place for $1.4 billion for Reckitt Benckiser aggressively marketing Suboxone in the U.S. fueling the opioid crisis further.
  • October 2019: Johnson & Johnson (J&J) agreed to pay a settlement of $10 million to each Ohio county and $5 million for both to cover litigation fees after claiming J&J (Johnson & Johnson) should take responsibility for fueling the opioid epidemic throughout their communities.
  • July 2021: A proposed $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson is anticipated to be finalized in September 2021. However, the lawsuit is still ongoing.

Opioid Lawsuit

After years of use, many are now filing lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of opioids for the following reasons:

  • The companies downplayed how addictive these pharmaceuticals could be when heavily marketing them.
  • Companies first claiming they did not know opioids were addictive, but later admitting they were aware the drugs were highly addictive.
  • There are doctors involved in these lawsuits due to allegations of payments by the drug manufacturers to push and prescribe these drugs to patients.
  • Plaintiffs are also prosecuting distributors for aggressively marketing opioid drugs without auditing or control of the distribution of opioids.

Since the opioid mass tort is so large, there are many manufacturers, distributors, and other companies acting as defendants. These companies include:

  • AmerisourceBergen
  • Cardinal Health
  • Teva
  • McKesson
  • Mallinckrodt
  • Purdue Pharma
  • Cardinal Health
  • Walgreens
  • CVS
  • Rite Aid
  • Walmart
  • Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc
  • Cephalon, Inc.
  • Allergan plc
  • Johnson & Johnson

Additionally, the opioid lawsuit is a nationwide epidemic, and plaintiffs from all over the country are coming forward. The current MDL established for the consolidated opioid cases is being held in the U.S. Northern District of Ohio MDL #2804.