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Opioid Liability for Injury and Death

The opioid industry is facing unprecedented backlash from private citizens and government officials as more individuals fall victim to addiction, injury and even death related to opioid use. Here, the product liability attorneys at The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos discuss who may be held liable for injuries or death related to opioid use.

As more individuals and families suffer as a result of opioid addiction and overdose, lawsuits are being filed daily against doctors and drug manufacturers. Government officials, most notably Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, have also launched an official investigation into major manufacturers of opioid-based medications, including Purdue, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Insys, Mylan and Depomed. Here is what you need to know about opioid lawsuits and addiction liability.

Risks and Dangers Linked to Opioids

Opioids are a type of pain relief medication that acts on opioid receptors in the brain to mimic morphine-like effects. While opioids may minimize pain, they are also highly addictive and have been linked to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening outcomes. These risks include addiction, heart complications, respiratory depression and even death related to overdose and cardiac arrest.

Opioid-based medications were intended to be prescribed to patients who have suffered severe physical trauma; however, many doctors prescribe them to patients who suffer from chronic pain.  Consistent with these prescribing practices, the number of patients prescribed opioids has boomed in the 21st century. While opioid manufacturers market opioids as effective for chronic pain, and claim that addiction is a low risk when these medications are properly used, studies have shown that opioids are not as effective for chronic pain as other relief methods. Other studies have even shown that opioids can increase pain in certain patients, especially when high dose or high potency opioids are prescribed.

Is My Healthcare Provider Liable?

Physicians and healthcare providers owe their patients a duty of care. They may be liable for medical malpractice if they neglect to perform, or fail to meet, the standard of their duty of care. In this case, if the type of drug/dosage is inappropriate to treat the condition diagnosed, or there is a failure to address a clear developing addiction, this may constitute a breach of duty. In addition, any physician who receives kickbacks for prescribing opioids likely constitutes a breach of the standard of care, requires disclosure of the financial incentive to the patient, and may be in violation of state and/or federal Anti-Kickback statutes.

Are Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors Liable?

The pharmaceutical industry is facing hundreds of lawsuits brought by cities, counties and states, including major metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York City. Manufacturers have a duty to warn physicians and users of any known dangers that they may face when using opioids. However, allegations made in these lawsuits, and information revealed in a “60 Minutes” investigation, suggest that manufacturers have concealed the truth about the addictive nature of opioids from physicians and consumers.  Worse yet, it appears that in some instances, opioid manufacturers have pushed healthcare professionals to prescribe larger quantities of opioids by providing monetary kickbacks—behavior that suggests opioid manufacturers are less concerned with the safety of their consumers, and more so with the mass distribution of products.

Some opioid manufacturers have also attempted to publicly underplay the risk of opioids with deceptive marketing terms, such as “pseudo-addiction.” According to Purdue, the makers of Oxycontin, “pseudo-addiction” occurs when a patient acts deceptively or aggressively to obtain opioid pain medication, such as asking for pain medication by its brand name, asking multiple doctors for opioid pain medication or becoming demanding when a doctor does not prescribe the medication they request. Instead of labelling these as classic signs of true addiction, Purdue claimed that patients who exhibit these behaviors require more pain medication, not less, and that their behavior is not indicative of a growing addiction.

In addition to claims against the drug manufacturers, cases have been filed against drug distributors, such as Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. These distributors settled with the state of West Virginia for $20 million and $16 million, respectively, based on claims that they failed to report suspicious orders of controlled substances to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as required by federal law. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that, over six years, 780 million pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone were distributed in West Virginia, a total that equals 433 opioid pills for every person in the state for each of the six years they were distributed. By law, distributors must report orders of controlled substances that seem “unreasonable or suspicious.” The DEA guidelines can be found here.      

Current Opioid Investigations

The attorney generals of 41 states have come together to investigate the practices of the manufacturers and distributors that produce opioid painkillers. Subpoenas seeking information have been issued to opioid manufacturers Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan and Purdue Pharma.

In addition, distribution companies AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson have been subpoenaed for the same investigation. These subpoenas are intended to uncover whether there was any deception involved in the mass distribution of opioids that led to the current crisis, if the manufacturers misled doctors about the efficacy and addictive properties of the opioid painkillers, and to examine marketing practices used to expose both the medical and public communities to the availability of opioids as a treatment option.

Consult the Product Liability Attorneys at The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos

Although opioid painkillers are designed to alleviate pain and suffering from severe trauma, they pose severe addiction and health risks to users. Attorneys at the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos have the skills and experience necessary to fight for the rights of injured victims and families. Our legal team has the knowledge and ability to successfully fight for your rights and the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one was prescribed opioids for chronic pain and became addicted, contact us today for a no cost consultation.