The reckoning for America’s worst drug epidemic is starting to take a foothold with Purdue Pharma recently agreeing to a $270 million out-of-court settlement with the state of Oklahoma. This may seem like a win against the opioid crisis, but is there a price tag for lives ruined and lost from the opioid epidemic fueled by prescription drugs manufactured by giant pharmaceutical companies?
Purdue Pharma, the maker of highly-addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin, is the second of the large pharmaceutical companies that are facing thousands of lawsuits filed by over 600 US cities, counties, states and Native American tribes from 28 states that assert the drug manufacturers’ culpability in the country’s opioid crisis that has claimed 40.
While the settlement money falls short of the $17 billion that Oklahoma had initially sought to pay for expenses the state incurred for addiction treatment and drug-related services, it’s could still bankroll year’s worth of services needed to combat the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma, such as drug treatment, health care, emergency services and other costs of drug addiction remedies. The state claims it will need 20 years to repair damages wrought by the opioid crisis.
Opioid Litigations Against Big Pharmaceuticals
There have been three landmark opioid settlements across America: one in the state of Oklahoma, two for Ohio, and individual cases against Purdue Pharma, with several more on the docks. The lawsuits have established the fact that drug manufacturers are culpable of illegal practices involving manufacturing, promoting, marketing, distributing, and lobbying for prescription opioids, which explains why they are quick to settle existing cases to avoid larger punitive damages and trials. This makes it highly unlikely to see cases go to trial and made public.
In August last year, an Oklahoma judge ordered opioid maker Johnson & Johnson–a family company that made fortune manufacturing family-friendly products, such as soaps baby powder and Band-Aids–to pay $572 million for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers. The amount is measly compared to the billions of dollars the company made from manufacturing and selling painkillers over a 20-year period.
The lawsuits claimed the companies are accountable for thousands of opioid deaths across the state, as well as the cost of health care, law enforcement, and treatment that the state has incurred in addressing the addiction crisis.
Will Victims of Opioid Addiction Benefit from the Opioid Settlement?
Oklahoma’s court rulings on Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma may be a portent of things to come for the 2,000 more opioid lawsuits, but will victims of opioid addiction benefit from the opioid settlement?
“The settlement is a large amount, but it’s apportioned over an extended period of time, it may have very little impact on meeting the immediate addiction treatment needs and save the lives of opioid victims. There is a sense of urgency in addressing the opioid crisis and it’s too early to say whether the settlement will result in tangible improvements and stem the tide of opioid crisis,” commented Will Stoy, MA, LPC-S, Executive Director at Stonegate Center, a leading private addiction treatment facility in Azle, Texas.
The details of the opioid settlement do not disclose how it will be spent and how it can be protected from being diverted for other uses than what it’s intended for, which is to help ease the opioid crisis. The settlement with Purdue Pharma was highly criticized for not having the voice of actual opioid victims heard or included during litigation.
John Eckelbarger, head of the Business Development team at Stonegate Center, asks the question that begs to be answered, “Will the states and groups that are receiving these multimillion-dollar settlements from the pharmaceutical companies use the money to actually help end the epidemic?”
Pharmaceutical Companies Likened to Drug Carters
The counties have claimed in the lawsuits that the pharmaceutical companies worked together and operated similar to drug cartels by conspiring to expand their market and using deceptive marketing to promote their products and downplaying addiction risks. The drugmakers have denied the accusations, affirming they delivered legitimate medications and complied with strict Drug Enforcement Agency and Food and Drug Administration regulations.
In the early part of 2019, the very same day as the sentencing of El Chapo Guzman, one of the world’s most notorious drug kingpins, a Washington Post published a report claiming that some of the country’s largest pharmaceutical corporations distributed 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain from 2006 to 2012, earning billions of dollars while getting Americans addicted to narcotics and fueling the drug epidemic.
The drugmakers are nowhere near the drug cartels. Their drugs are not illegally delivered or distributed by mules and sold in dark alleys. America’s Big Pharma, what the legal American drug companies are collectively known, legally distribute their narcotics through a vast distribution network of pharmacies and physicians. And the biggest difference between drug cartels and the Big Pharma? Pharmaceutical companies enjoy federal protection and almost operate with impunity.
People who do similar things as the pharmaceutical companies don’t enjoy any privileges and spend the rest of their lives in jail. There are individuals who languish in jail for having been caught for possessing small amounts of illegal substances, a far harsher punishment than the pharmaceutical company executives and owners who have, in many ways, plead guilty to using corporate strategies to market and distribute opioids that have killed nearly a quarter-million Americans. They get away without seeing the inside of prison walls while our loved ones suffer and succumb to opioid addiction.
Purdue Pharma Files for Bankruptcy
In 2019, Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of the settlement deal with numerous states and plaintiffs and to preempt dealing with thousands of lawsuits alleging that the company misled the public and physicians in the aggressive and misleading promotion of its manufactured dangerously-addictive opioid painkillers, including its OxyContin, which ignited the opioid epidemic and public health crisis. To date, the company has not publicly admitted any wrongdoing.
“This settlement framework avoids wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and years on protracted litigation, and instead will provide billions of dollars and critical resources to communities across the country trying to cope with the opioid crisis,” said a statement from Steve Miller, chairman of Purdue’s board of directors, posted on the company website.
No lives should be lost to opioid addiction. No one should stand by their parent or child’s grave and be left on their own to deal with the fact that their loved one is just a dollar sign to pharmaceutical companies. More than a dozen other pharmaceutical companies, drug distributors and pharmacies still face federal opioid trials. The financial settlements will never be enough to repair ruined lives and certainly will not bring back the lives lost in the battle with addiction. But it’s a good start.
If Your Loved One is Addicted to Opioid, Get Help Now
If someone you care about or love is showing signs of opioid addiction, we encourage you to seek addiction treatment now. Initiating a conversation or opening up the channels of communication may help them feel less alone and take the first step towards healing and recovery: acknowledging that they have a problem. To learn more about treatment options, contact the local rehab centers and discuss their addiction treatment programs. If you’re looking for a faith-based private rehab center in Azle and Dallas-Fort Worth areas, contact Stonegate Center at (817) 993-9733 or visit the contact page to submit a form.
Stonegate Center is a faith-based alcohol and drug abuse treatment center based in Azle, Texas. Our separate treatment facilities for men and women provide safe and healing environment where our residents can receive guidance and achieve physical freedom from addiction. Stonegate Center stresses community, accountability, and fellowship. Serving the communities of Azle, Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas, and beyond.