Municipalities take pharmaceuticals to court
by Carol Thompson
Eric, a 32 year old upstate New York resident, is an admitted drug addict. The evil that has a hold on him: OxyContin. As he begins his fourth week “clean” he fears it will be another failed attempt.
“I am the last person anyone would expect to be hooked on any drug,” Eric told VNN. “I never meant for this to happen. I’ve lost everything.”
Eric’s drug abuse began following back surgery. Two years earlier he had worked for a moving company. One day, he stood nearby as coworkers were removing a refrigerator from a truck using a dolly when the appliance broke free and hit him in the back. He said he had pain but nothing severe. He visited a doctor and was told he had been lucky no damage was done and to an take over-the-counter pain reliever.
Months later, the pain exacerbated. Eric said he went to a specialist who told him he needed back surgery. His surgery included placement of a metal rod and that’s where his problems began.
“The rod wasn’t put in right,” Eric said. “When I bent over, it would protrude. It looked like it was going to pop through my skin.” He was unable to lie flat and had to sleep in an upright position. Unable to work, depression set in.
He called to make an appointment with his surgeon only to learn that the doctor had died. That left him in search of a new health care provider.
“The doctor gave me a prescription for OxyContin and said it would help both my back pain and depression,” Eric, who asked that his last name not be used, said. “One pill and my pain was gone, completely gone and I felt euphoric. I could move freely, without pain, and I could sleep in my bed again.”
As the days passed, Eric said he began taking two pills at a time. His 30 day supply of pills were gone in 22 days. That’s when he took to the streets. “I had to have it. I craved it. The pain was back with a vengeance and I’d do anything to make it those eight days until refill day came.”
He was able to score the drug on the street and his doctor readily gave him a new prescription at each visit. Eric was told that surgery to replace the rod would be too risky. It could cause paralysis or even death.
The addiction set in and Eric began having legal problems. He had car accidents and was arrested for carrying the pills loosely in his pocket instead of the prescription bottle. His wife left him and he his appearance deteriorated, making it difficult to find a job.
When Eric sued the hospital where his surgery was performed, his case was quickly settled. He received a large settlement, an amount he isn’t allowed to disclose due to a confidentiality agreement. “When I started blowing through that money, that’s when I put the brakes on and decided to get help. I knew if I kept going, I’d have no money left and I’d probably end up losing my home.” His wife had forfeited their home in the divorce proceedings in exchange for money from his settlement.
Eric, who is waiting for admittance into a drug rehabilitation center, said he is doing okay on his own. “I need the rehab to stay clean forever, but for now, I manage day by day.” He is going to physical therapy to better manage his pain and taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
He said he has many regrets and one of them is that he didn’t sue the pharmaceutical company, but others concerned over the addictive nature of drugs such as OxyContin have.
Two California counties file suit
In May, two California counties filed suit against five of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies claiming they have caused the nation’s prescription drug epidemic.
Officials from Orange and Santa Clara counties allege the drug makers violated California laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance. Named in the suit are Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ Cephalon Inc.
“Beginning over 20 years ago, Defendants seized on anecdotal accounts of opioid used to treat chronic pain to begin a reeducation campaign about opioids. They spent millions of
dollars funding, assisting, and encouraging doctors and front groups that would pioneer a new and far broader market for their potent and highly addictive drugs – the chronic pain market,” the lawsuit contends.
Court documents state that twenty percent of all doctors’ visits result in the prescription of an opioid (nearly double the rate in 2000). Opioids – once niche drug – are now the most prescribed class of drugs.
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of the entire state, seeks compensation for damages allegedly caused by the drugs.
Chicago follows suit
In June, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city filed a lawsuit in Illinois state court against five pharmaceutical manufacturers for misrepresenting the benefits of opioids and concealing the serious health risks associated with the drugs. This deception has led to an increase in abuse, addiction and overdose, he said.
Cities large and small across the country have seen increases in prescription narcotic use that is taking a toll on emergency rooms, law enforcement and health care.
For Eric, the toll on his body was substantial, he said. He suffered severe diarrhea every time the drug left his system. He was hospitalized twice for dehydration. And, he said, the drug took a toll on his appearance. “It aged me ten years.”
Painkillers are involved in more than 16,000 deaths each year and are responsible for pushing fatal overdoses ahead of traffic accidents as a leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Los Angeles Times. They are approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.