Opioid Painkillers Responsible for Thousands of Prescription Drug Deaths
Opioid painkillers are linked to extreme dependence, often leading to severe injury or death by overdose.
Doctors and healthcare providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013 in the United States. This is enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of dangerous painkillers. Prescription opioid painkillers can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks and side effects. This class of drugs is highly addictive and known to be one of the most overprescribed in the U.S., despite all the trouble the drugs have caused.
From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Now, over 90 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. Ohio is among the states hardest hit by the epidemic.
Deaths from dangerous prescription opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999. The epidemic in addiction has prompted many hospitals and clinics to control the drugs more closely, though the problem persists. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) rolled out an Opioid Safety Initiative and significantly cut the number of opioids it prescribed.
Joe Lyon is a highly rated Ohio medical malpractice attorney with experience in injuries due to medication errors. Mr. Lyon has represented plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of medical negligence, wrongful death and injury claims.
Types of Opioid Painkillers
Sales of prescribed opioid painkillers, including oxycodone and hydrocodone almost quadrupled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contributing to a 400 percent increase in deaths from prescription opioids in that same period. Almost 2 million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid painkillers in 2014, according to the CDC.
Common types of dangerous painkillers include:
• Oxycodone (OxyContin)
• Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Fentanyl Deaths Rising Nationwide
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. This drug has caused an immense rise in addiction and death in many states, including Ohio. Although fentanyl is often illegally made and distributed, it can be prescribed by doctors to treat acute pain in patients.
There are two kinds of fentanyl:
1. Pharmaceutical fentanyl—primarily prescribed to manage acute and chronic pain.
2. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl—Illicitly manufactured, and often mixed with heroin to increase the drug’s effect.
The death rates from synthetic opioids, including drugs like tramadol and fentanyl increased by over 72 percent from 2014 to 2015. Opioid death rates increased across all demographics and numerous states including Ohio where the death rate more than doubled.
Aggressive Marketing the Root Cause of Addiction
The National Institutes of Health identified drug companies’ marketing tactics as a major contributor to the nation’s opioid abuse problem. Despite a lack of scientific evidence that opioid use is beneficial for long-term pain management, the amount of prescribed opioids in the United States is astounding.
In 2014, nearly two million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain relievers. As many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid treatment struggles with opioid addiction. Once addicted, it can be nearly impossible to stop. Taking too many prescription opioids can stop a person’s breathing and lead to death.
Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose deaths (about 60 percent) involve an opioid. The crisis has been named a top priority by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner.
Taking Painkillers with Other Pharmaceuticals Increases Risks
Even though prescription opioid overdose deaths often involve benzodiazepines, some doctors fail to monitor all the different drugs their patient is taking. Many patients take painkillers in conjunction with benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants used to sedate, induce sleep, prevent seizures, and relieve anxiety. Addictive and potentially dangerous benzodiazepines include:
• Alprazolam (Xanax)
• Diazepam (Valium)
• Lorazepam (Ativan)
It is important to avoid taking benzodiazepines while taking prescription opioids whenever possible. Doctors who prescribe both opioids and benzodiazepines for the same patient may be found negligent should injury or death occur.
Ohio Attorney General Sues Painkiller Manufacturers
It’s not just doctors who have been facing legal action for the opioid epidemic. A number of states have filed suit against pharmaceutical companies for their roles in the opioid epidemic, including the state of Ohio. Ohio consistently ranks near the top of drug overdose rates. In 2016, 2.3 million people in Ohio, or about a fifth of the state’s population, were prescribed opioids.
A recent complaint filed by the Ohio Attorney General alleges that drugmakers downplay the risks and tout the benefits of opioids, helping to fuel the prescription painkiller crisis responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 people in Ohio in 2016.
The Ohio lawsuit lawsuit claims drugmakers violated multiple state laws, including the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act, and committed Medicaid fraud. Primary care doctors were being told that true addiction is extremely rare, but the reality is much different. OxyContin, for example, included a fraudulent marketing campaign that claimed the drug was not as addictive as other alternative drugs.
Drug Manufacturers Push Opioid Painkillers on Doctors and Patients
Several drugmakers are under fire for their important role in the addiction epidemic in America. Companies such as Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Allergan have all been named in lawsuits alleging they know the terrible risks of the drugs they make and still encourage doctors and patients to use them in many uncertain circumstances.
In 2014, pharmaceutical companies spent $168 million through sales reps peddling prescription opioids to influence doctors. Also, some large pharmacy chains such as Walmart, CVS and Walgreens have been named in lawsuits, and are being investigated in their role in opioid addiction deaths.
The current litigation seeks to hold the drug industry accountable for producing, marketing and distributing opioid painkillers without proper warnings, and compensate families and communities for the costs incurred as a result of opioid-related deaths and addictions.
If you or a loved one suffered an injury involving a medication error, and have questions about the legal remedies available to improve quality of life and medical care, contact The Lyon Firm (800) 513-2403. You will speak directly with Mr. Lyon, and he will help you answer these critical questions.