In the early 1990s, Purdue Pharma introduced a new sustained-release version of an opioid medication. This medication, known as OxyContin, was marketed heavily by manufacturers and distributors to prescribing doctors.
The information in the marketing materials stated that OxyContin was a safe and effective way to treat chronic pain. All of these organizations heavily stressed that the medication was highly effective and safe with a very low risk of developing a dependency on the drug.
Doctors and their patients who were prescribed OxyContin accepted these claims and believed the drug was a good solution to provide relief from pain.
Despite this, Purdue Pharma had information that indicated these claims were false. In fact, OxyContin was discovered to be a highly addictive medication. They failed to release this information and continued to market the drug as safe.
Over the years, doctors continued to prescribe these medications. This is largely because of the structure of the American healthcare system: insurance companies will pay for pain medications, but they typically do not cover other forms of pain management.
The medications initially helped relieve the pain of patients, but over time, these patients became immune to the pain-reducing effects. In turn, they required increasing doses of the medication to achieve the same level of pain management.
Eventually, this led to widespread misuse and over-prescribing of OxyContin. The number of deaths involving overdoses began to rise along with the number of infants born with withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to the medication in utero.
Those who relied on opioids for pain management began to realize that they experienced significant withdrawal symptoms after finishing their prescribed medications. The withdrawal symptoms of prescription opioids are severe and unpleasant, leading many to seek more pills or other forms of opioids, like heroin.
Heroin is far less expensive than gaining access to OxyContin without a prescription and is easily accessible in most areas. One study of heroin addicts shows that as many as 80% of users were led to the drug after experiencing an addiction to prescription painkillers.
By 2010, the opioid epidemic was fully established. Its reach has been far and wide; opioid abuse has affected all ages, genders, and races throughout the country. More than 500,000 lives have been lost due to overdoses involving opioids since 1999, and many more are still battling the effects of opioid addiction. Whether they are struggling with addiction themselves or have friends or family members fighting for their lives to break free from the grips of opioids, there is no denying the immeasurable pain and suffering caused at the hands of negligent manufacturers, distributors, and even retailers.
While opioid litigation will not end the epidemic by itself, the lawsuits have made great strides in reducing the number of opioids that are prescribed.
Likewise, the settlements that have been received and those that will come in the future aim to rebuild devastated communities, create effective treatment programs, and provide mental health support for all of those who have been affected.