CAN INDIVIDUAL PATIENTS SUE THE OPIOID MAKERS?

There has been a wave of governmental entities suing opioid manufacturers and distributors for the damages they caused by creating the opioid epidemic, and it is now time for individual patients to do the same!

 

When Paul J. Molinaro, M.D., J.D. Started Practicing Medicine

When he started practicing medicine in the early 1990s, physician and attorney Paul J. Molinaro, M.D., J.D. was taught that opioids were only to be used in special circumstances and very sparingly as they are addicting and dangerous. However, a couple decades ago, the opioid manufacturers and distributors crafted a plan to increase their customer base. These pharmaceutical companies capitalized on the known addictive properties of opiates by claiming to have reformulated the old-time opiates and marketing the new ones as safe, nonaddictive, and effective medications for patients of all ages and all types of pain. Their marketing included hiring “specialists” to create new pain societies and infiltrate existing ones, have these specialists “teach” other physicians about the benefits of treating chronic pain with long-term opiates, and promoting “guidelines” that created the notion that long-term opiates were the standard of care for the treatment of chronic pain. Their sales force promoted the notion that pain is the “fifth vital sign,” and their direct to consumer advertising taught patients that if their healthcare provider did not address and treat pain at every visit, he or she was not practicing good medicine. Most physicians knew better and resisted the economic pressure of refusing to prescribe potent narcotics when not absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, a large number of prescribers enjoyed immediate, and substantial, financial gains by prescribing opiates upon request.

 

Opioid Epidemic Facts

According to a New York Times article, United States drug overdose deaths in 2016 exceeded 59,000. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/05/upshot/opioid-epidemic-drug-overdose-deaths-are-rising-faster-than-ever.html). In contrast, approximately 50,000 people in the United States died from drug overdose in 2015. In the Unites States, drug overdose has become the leading cause of death of individuals under the age of 50 years with sixty percent of these deaths being caused by opioid overdose.

The deaths should be enough to label the opiate problem an epidemic, but the financial impact is enough to label it a national disaster. One estimate of the yearly financial impact of the opioid epidemic puts the number over $500 billion. “The economic cost of the opioid crisis in 2015 was $504 billion, much higher than previous estimates, according to a new report from The Council of Economic Advisers, an agency that is part of the Executive Office of the President.” (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-much-the-opioid-epidemic-costs-the-us-2017-10-27). “In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.1 That same year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder (not mutually exclusive).” (https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis). “Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder. An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin. About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.” (Id.).

In addition to the direct damages this epidemic is taking on addicts and their family and friends, society is bearing the burden of additional healthcare costs, emergency medical services, rehabilitation programs, increased crime, increased policing and imprisonment, and the degradation of entire neighborhoods. “The U.S. spent nearly $8 billion on criminal justice-related costs due to selling and consuming opioids, which was almost entirely a cost to state and local governments, according to the 2015 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control study published in the journal Medical Care. Worse, the recidivism rate for drug addicts is around 45% within three years of prison release.” (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-much-the-opioid-epidemic-costs-the-us-2017-10-27). President Donald Trump stated, “No part of our society * not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural * has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that*s taken place with opioids.” The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the cost is approximately $75 billion per year.

Leaving the exact amount of dollars out, the Opioid Epidemic has drained cities and counties of money as well as resources lost to: (1) providing medical care, additional therapeutic and prescription drug purchases to treat opiate addiction and the secondary diseases and deaths; (2) providing treatment, counseling, and rehabilitation services; (3) providing treatment of newborns with opioid toxicity and addiction; (4) providing law enforcement and public safety; and (5) providing short-term and long-term care for children of opioid addicted parents.

 

Many Patients Trusted Their Physicians and Other Healthcare Professionals

You were taught to trust your doctor, and that your doctor had your best interests in mind. When you have surgery or another problem where you need to manage pain, you expect the person in charge of your medical care to take care of you and help you get better. Unfortunately, doctors often spend little time following up on a patient’s pain needs, after they have prescribed a potentially dangerous and addictive medication. Instead of monitoring your use of a dangerous medication, doctors let you develop a tolerance until you are taking larger and larger amounts. Attorney and Physician Paul J. Molinaro, M.D., J.D. was taught that opioids should be used with care, and very rarely. That is no longer the case, and we face a crisis with many individuals being addicted to opioids. Just since 1999, the number of deaths due to opioid use has more than quadrupled. You may have lost your health, your relationships, your job, or suffered other personal losses because of your addiction.

 

Representing Individuals Is More Challenging

Admittedly, representing individuals is more challenging than representing governmental entities and insurers. Many people view patients who become addicted to prescribed opiates as “drug addicts” or “junkies” no different than people who abuse recreational or “street” drugs. This belief causes those people to feel that the patient who becomes addicted to prescribed opiates is at fault, could have stopped at any time, and was certainly not a victim who is entitled to any “compensation” from the opiate manufacturers and distributors. However, such a belief is misguided as it completely ignores how these extremely addictive “pain killers” were marketed to patients across the United States. By intentionally and knowingly creating falsified studies, completely misleading advertisements, sending out self-proclaimed pain management specialists to conduct bogus lectures and seminars, and designing the drugs to be addictive, the opiate manufacturers and distributors created the prescription opiate epidemic. These greedy pharmaceutical companies knew they were killing patients and ruining the lives of entire families. Yet, they committed all of these illegal actions to make billions of dollars.

At Fransen & Molinaro, LLP, we understand that opioid addiction can happen to anyone. The patients we would like to help are ones who became addicted to prescription opiates that were prescribed by healthcare providers, patients who did not have a preexisting drug addiction, and patients who truly did not want to become addicted to opiates. As examples, the college athlete who underwent a successful knee surgery only to be prescribed Oxycontin for months on end, the middle aged warehouse worker with a minor low back injury for which some healthcare provider prescribed an endless supply of opiates, or the elderly patient with mild arthritis who is told by some practitioner that there is nothing to be done except for taking prescription opiates. When you put your trust in your doctor, you should receive proper care and your real needs should be met. You should not be dealt addictive pills and suffer because of the irresponsible prescribing of dangerous drugs.

Those who manufacture, distribute and prescribe these dangerous drugs have no reason to stop, because they are not the ones suffering the consequences. It is our goal to help put an end to this crisis by helping the victims file civil lawsuits to recoup their losses. If you want help, please call Attorney and Physician Paul J. Molinaro, M.D., J.D. today for a free consultation.

 

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* The above text may be considered an ad from a California law firm.