As of 2019, it was estimated that more than 55,000 Americans died each year from a drug overdose, which had become the leading cause of death of individuals under the age of 50. Sixty percent of these deaths were caused by opioids. The jump in fatalities over the previous 15 years had been staggering, a more than three-times increase.
In addition to the devastating toll this epidemic took on the addicts, family, and friends, the monetary cost to government agencies was in the tens of billions of dollars each year when considering public healthcare, treatment facilities, law enforcement, criminal justice, and jail expenses. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the cost to be approximately $75 billion per year.
Our law firm represented more than 1,000 government agencies against wholesale distributors, retailers, and manufacturers of opioids in order to recover the immense damages sustained as a result of these companies creating the opioid epidemic. We were instrumental in settlements totaling more than $50 billion.
Why are States, Counties & Cities Suing Opioid Distributors & Manufacturers
Thousands of government entities are suing wholesale and retail distributors and manufacturers of opioids seeking reimbursement for government spending arising out of opioid addictions and overdoses.
The defendants often include companies such as McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Endo International, Teva Pharmaceutical, Allergan (formerly Actavis), Watson Pharmaceuticals, Covidien, Johnson & Johnson, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid.
The complaints typically allege the distributors violated the federal Controlled Substances Act by failing to alert the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of suspicious opioids purchases, such as orders of unusual size, frequency, or pattern. The claims against the manufacturers are based on allegations the companies exaggerated the benefits of the medication and knew the drugs were being overly prescribed, yet failed to warn doctors of the extremely addictive nature of the narcotics and the need to strictly limit the dose.
The lawsuits also claim the pharmaceutical companies lobbied politicians and doctors in an effort to artificially increase the use of opioids and willfully allowed the drugs to enter the black market. For example, in 2012, there were 793 million doses of opioids prescribed in Ohio, which is 60-times larger than the entire population of the state. In 2010, 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the United States, which amount was capable of treating every adult in the country 24-hours a day for one month.
Claims against Purdue additionally include allegations of fraud and knowingly encouraging addiction. Lawyers assert the company promoted its drug OxyContin to the FDA and medical community as less addictive than other painkillers, claiming it would last for 12 hours. This was not correct. The painkiller would last less than 12 hours, which means the user would begin to experience withdrawals, which would then cause them to become dependent on the drug. It’s the process of withdrawing that often leads to the actual addiction, as the user feels the need to reduce the withdrawal pain.
In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to the federal crime of misbranding its drug OxyContin "with intent to defraud and mislead the public." Purdue paid a fine of $635 million. Purdue received FDA approval to sell OxyContin in 1995. In 1996, it sold $45 million worth, but then went on a national campaign to convince doctors that it was a non-addictive pain reliever, and their campaign worked. By 2002, the company was selling $1.5 billion worth of OxyContin each year. By 2012, this number had risen to $3 billion, with primary-care doctors (rather than specialists) being responsible for approximately half of the prescriptions.
Over the past decade, pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $880 million lobbying at the state and federal level in an effort to push legislation and regulations regarding opioids. Incredibly, the opioid lobbying has been eight times greater than that of the gun lobby.
Damages Being Sought in Government Opioid Claims
Government agencies are seeking reimbursement for some of the health and social costs related to opioid abuse, which is estimated to be in excess of $55 billion each year.
Some of the specific damages being sought include:
- Building and maintaining treatment facilities.
- Reimbursement of Medicaid and other governmental expenses related to the treatment of addicts, including the payment for unnecessarily prescribed opioids, and the antidote to treat overdoses.
- Reimbursement for added law enforcement and medical personnel to treat the opioid epidemic.
- Reimbursement for costs of prosecutions and jails.
Government Settlements with Opioid Wholesale Distributors & Manufacturers
In 2021, a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general announced a $26 billion national settlement with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and the three largest distributors of opioid painkillers (AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson). To read more, click NPR
In 2019, opioid distributors McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health, and drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals, agreed to a $260 million settlement with Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Ohio. To read more, click Washington Post
In 2019, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue filed for bankruptcy as part of an estimated $12 billion settlement with state and local governments. As part of the proposed settlement, the Sackler family agreed to pay at least $3 billion in the settlement plus contribute the company itself, and its future profits, to the bankruptcy trustee. To read more, click AP News
In 2019, an Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson and Johnson must pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million, stating: "The defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome." To read more, click CNN
In 2017, McKesson Corporation, one of the nation’s largest distributors of pharmaceuticals, paid a $150 million civil penalty for violations of the Controlled Substances Act. McKesson was failing to report “suspicious orders” for oxycodone and hydrocodone, such as orders that were suspicious in frequency, size, or other patterns. To read more, click Justice Department McKesson
In 2017, Mallinckrodt Plc, a manufacturer of oxycodone, agreed to pay $35 million to resolve U.S. investigations into its monitoring and reporting of suspicious orders of controlled substances. To read more, click Reuters
In 2017, Costco Wholesale reached an $11.75 million settlement to resolve allegations that its pharmacies violated the Controlled Substances Act when they improperly filled prescriptions for controlled substances. To read more, click Justice Department Cosco
In 2017, Cardinal Health reached a settlement in the amount of $20 million with the state of West Virginia regarding the company's distribution of opioids in state between 2007 and 2012. "Cardinal and other wholesalers in a six-year period sent 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia – 433 per state resident . . . . In that time, there were 1,728 fatal overdoses from the addictive painkillers.” To read more, click Columbus Business First
In 2016, Cardinal Health, Inc. agreed to pay $44 million to the United States to resolve allegations that it violated the Controlled Substances Act in Maryland, Florida and New York by failing to report suspicious orders of controlled substances to pharmacies located in those states. To read more, click Justice Department Cardinal Health
In 2015, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to pay the state of Kentucky $24 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of misleading the public about the addictiveness of the prescription opioid. To read more, click CBS News
The Human Side of the Opioid Epidemic
Approximately 2 million Americans are currently addicted to opioids, with more than 90 million Americans having used a prescription painkiller in the past year. The most commonly used are hydrocodone (such as Vicodin, Lorcet & Lortab), Oxycodone (such as OxyContin, Percodan & Roxicet), methadone, fentanyl, and morphine.
The number one opioid killer appears to be fentanyl or an analog (variation), especially when it is combined with heroin or cocaine. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. One fentanyl analog, Carfentanil, is 5,000 times stronger than heroin. An amount as small as a few drops of sand can be fatal. The drug is so powerful that even when numerous doses of the antidote naloxone (Narcan) are timely administered, the person will be lucky to survive.
The picture of the homeless man living on the streets is not the accurate portrayal of the modern-day addict. Instead, the portrait is one of individuals of all ages, race, ethnicity, education and socioeconomic status. White, working-class, individuals living in rural areas make up one the largest subset of deaths.
One of the common cycles involving heroin addiction is the user begins his/her use consuming painkillers. Once the user becomes dependent on the high, and especially when experiencing withdrawal symptoms, the user looks for other ways to achieve the result without the costs of prescription opioids. This is when the user switches to heroin, which is more potent and cheaper than FDA approved opioids. Eighty percent of heroin users started out misusing medically prescribed opioids.
Opioid Lawsuit News
Walgreens fueled San Francisco’s opioid epidemic with thousands of ‘suspicious orders,’ judge rules
LPR Attorney Peter Mougey responded to a federal judge’s decision holding Walgreens accountable for the city’s devastating opioid epidemic. According to Mougey, the ruling casts much-needed light on the pharmacy giant’s negligence in failing to halt the crisis from unfolding in San Francisco. “The sun has set on Walgreens’ attempt to hide the evidence of its nonexistent opioid compliance program while it instead focused on profits by flooding San Francisco with a tsunami of pills,” Mougey said. To read more, click Los Angeles Times
Walgreens Helped Fuel San Francisco Opioid Epidemic, Judge Rules
A federal judge found that Walgreens, San Francisco’s largest retail pharmacy, contributed to the city’s opioid epidemic. The decision reflects the latest in a chain of lawsuits that aim to hold pharmacy chains accountable for the nation’s opioid crisis. To read more, click The Wall Street Journal
Walgreens helped fuel San Francisco’s opioid crisis, judge rules
According to the city attorney’s office, San Francisco experienced a nearly 500% spike in opioid-related overdose deaths. A federal judge has ruled that Walgreens exacerbated this problem for San Francisco, causing an undue burden on the city’s resources. To read more, click The Washington Post
Drug companies reach $260 million deal with Ohio counties over role in opioid epidemic
The settlement will require drug distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health as well as generic opioid painkiller maker Teva Pharmaceuticals to pay at least $260 million to Cuyahoga and Summit counties. To read more, click Vox
Purdue Pharma files for bankruptcy as part of a $10 billion agreement to settle opioid lawsuits
Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy as part of its plan to settle litigation with dozens of states and other plaintiffs who say the company fueled the opioid crisis. Purdue (the marker of OxyContin) said its bankruptcy filing Sunday is part of an agreement to pay billions of dollars to states and local and tribal governments. To read more, click CNN
Johnson & Johnson Ordered To Pay Oklahoma $572 Million In Opioid Trial
An Oklahoma judge has ruled that drugmaker Johnson & Johnson helped ignite the state's opioid crisis by deceptively marketing painkillers, and must pay $572 million to the state. To read more, click NPR
Can This Judge Solve the Opioid Crisis?
Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the Northern District of Ohio has perhaps the most daunting legal challenge in the country: resolving more than 400 federal lawsuits brought by cities, counties and Native American tribes against central figures in the national opioid tragedy, including makers of the prescription painkillers, companies that distribute them, and pharmacy chains that sell them. And he has made it clear that he will not be doing business as usual. To read more, click New York Times
Ex-DEA agent: Opioid crisis fueled by drug industry and Congress
Whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi says drug distributors pumped opioids into U.S. communities -- knowing that people were dying -- and says industry lobbyists and Congress derailed the DEA's efforts to stop it. To read more, click 60 Minutes Investigation
Lawyers Hope to Do to Opioid Makers What They Did to Big Tobacco
Attorneys general who use outside lawyers say a contingent-fee arrangement can help them pursue worthwhile litigation they haven’t the resources to mount alone. In most such arrangements, outside law firms bear the cost of the litigation and are paid only if it succeeds. More than 300,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses since the late 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many public-health officials maintain that aggressive pharmaceutical-company marketing and lax prescribing helped cause addiction that for many people progressed to heroin and other illicit drugs. To read more, click Wall Street Journal
Opioids could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade
Even the more middle-of-the-road forecasts suggest that by 2027, the annual U.S. death toll from opioids alone will likely surpass the worst year of gun deaths on record, and may top the worst year of AIDS deaths at the peak of that epidemic in the 1990s, when nearly 50,000 people were dying each year. The average toll across all 10 forecasts: nearly 500,000 deaths over the next decade. Beyond the immeasurable pain to families, the overdoses will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars. To read more, click STAT
Pharma lobbying held deep influence over opioid policies
The opioid industry and its allies contributed to roughly 7,100 candidates for state-level offices. For over a decade, a group called the Pain Care Forum has met with some of the highest-ranking health officials in the federal government, while quietly working to influence proposed regulations on opioids and promote legislation and reports on the problem of untreated pain. The group is coordinated by the chief lobbyist for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. To read more, click Center for Public Integrity