Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Opioid Lawsuits

The Attorney General of Ohio, Mike DeWine, has filed a huge lawsuit against five drug companies for their part in creating our opioid painkiller crisis. The suit accuses them of false advertising, both exaggerating the benefits of the drugs and minimizing the harm they cause:
The lawsuit cites several examples of misleading marketing: An Endo-sponsored website,, in 2009 claimed that “people who take opioids as prescribed usually do not become addicted.” Janssen approved and distributed a patient education guide in 2009 that attempted to counter the “myth” that opioids are addictive, claiming that “many studies show that opioids are rarely addictive when used properly for the management of chronic pain.” Purdue sponsored a publication from the American Pain Foundation, which is heavily funded by opioid companies, claiming that the risk of addiction is less than 1 percent among children prescribed opioids — suggesting pain is undertreated and opioids are necessary.

This is only a small sampling. In total, DeWine claims opioid companies spent “millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.”
Meanwhile the Cherokee Nation has filed their own lawsuit against the distributors of these drugs, claiming that they have not fulfilled their obligation under Federal law to investigate doctors or clinics that issue unusually large numbers of prescriptions. I have read before about some doctors who got away for years with handing out pills like crazy, and the distributors absolutely have a legal obligation to do something about it. The Vox story cites a good example:
The small town of Kermit, West Virginia, has a population of 392, but a single pharmacy there received 9 million hydrocodone pills over two years from out-of-state drug companies.
In their defense the companies will cite the big movement that took off in the 1990s to treat pain more aggressively and argue that they were just responding to what doctors and patients wanted. We'll see; it seems to me that both of these legal avenues have a good chance of succeeding, and it would not surprise me at all if we end up in a few years with a gigantic tobacco company-style nationwide settlement.

Meanwhile many people who first got addicted to prescription pills have already moved on to heroin, which is cheaper, so even completely cutting off the supply will not solve the problem. But imposing more discipline on the prescription process seems like a good step.

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