On December 26, 2018, Barry Meier of The New York Times released an article entitled, “Opioid Makers Are the Big Winners in Lawsuit Settlements,” which claims that local and state governments are surrendering game-changing opportunities to hold the drug industry accountable for the number of opioid-related deaths in America.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers, such as morphine and codeine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 70% of the 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid. Recently, the U.S. Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee conducted an investigation that revealed evidence suggesting that the drug industry paid advocacy organizations millions of dollars to manipulate public opinion and promote opioid-friendly marketing messages.
While countless officials file lawsuits against negligent opioid companies throughout the year, most of these cases are quickly and quietly settled for the sake of financial and political convenience. As Meier writes, “Today, state and local officials who have filed scores of lawsuits against companies that make or distribute prescription opioids face a similar choice – whether to settle those cases or insist that the facts detailing the opioid industry’s disregard for public health finally be revealed.”
Of course, there is no question that these settlements provide important financial aid to addiction treatment programs and organizations nationwide. However, the courts are still missing an opportunity to truly investigate and reveal how these opioid producers and distributors are encouraging and exploiting the public’s ignorance in the pursuit of greater profits.
The Purdue Pharma Dilemma
In 2007, the Justice Department settled its criminal case against the maker of OxyContin. Federal officials believed the positive case outcome would prevent other companies from illegally marketing opioids to American citizens. This public “victory” was soured by the revelation that prosecutors failed to charge Purdue Pharma executives with covering up evidence regarding OxyContin. In the article, Meier reveals that “senior Justice Department officials rejected the recommendation and settled the case for $634.5 million and consigned some of the investigators’ findings to secrecy. The company’s executives denied any wrongdoing.” Since this case, 80,000 people have died from overdoses involving opioids because doctors are unaware of Purdue Pharma’s dishonest practices.
Likewise, in 2001, Florida was one of the first states to truly investigate Purdue Pharma. Attorney General Robert Butterworth avowed that he would discover and reveal the truth about the company. Instead, Butterworth swiftly ended the case and focused his attention on running for a State Senate seat. Also, Meier exposes, “While Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $2 million to find a system that would monitor how Florida doctors prescribed opioids, state legislators blocked its creation. David Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, told me that nearly all of the $2 million was returned to the drug company and Florida went on to become a major center of the opioid crisis.”
The opioid crisis is considered one of the greatest health catastrophes of the 21st century. While a quick settlement has its immediate benefits, foregoing public trials ultimately protects both the opioid industry and its deadly secrets. At Elizabeth A. Citron, P.C., our opioid litigation attorney in Daphne, Alabama is dedicated to holding opioid manufacturers responsible for their negligence and corporate misconduct. If your lawsuit is successful, you could recover damages that cover your medical costs, addition treatments, lost wages, and more. If your loved one has passed away from opioid addition, we can also help you pursue justice and compensation in a wrongful death case.
Contact Elizabeth A. Citron, P.C. at (251) 202-3374 to schedule a consultation.