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Opioid Crisis: Trials As Well As Tribulations

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The opioid crisis in the United States has grown at an alarming rate. It is estimated that more than 300,000 Americans have died of an opioid overdose since 2000. Among the American states, Alabama has the highest rate of opioid prescriptions - with healthcare providers writing 107.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons. West Virginia has the highest rate of death due to drug overdose (Data as of 2017) (Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Who is to blame for this crisis?

According to an AP-NORC poll, conducted in April 2019, 63 percent of Americans think pharmaceutical companies are largely to be blamed for the problem of opioid addiction, while 58 percent feel that the individuals who use the opioids are themselves to be blamed. Forty-six percent think doctors and dentists are significantly responsible for the problem and 34 percent think the blame is on the government.

The numbers say it all...

An analysis of the ARCOS Retail Drug Summary Reports conducted by Washington Post has revealed that 76 billion pills of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone were distributed by drug companies across the country between 2006 and 2012.

ARCOS, or Automated Reports and Consolidated Ordering System is a data collection system in which manufacturers and distributors report their *controlled substances transactions to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (*Drugs categorized as controlled substances have a high potential for abuse).

According to the analysis, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Walgreens, AmeriSource Bergen, CVS and Walmart top the list - distributing 75 percent of the opioid pills, while three drugmakers - SpecGx, Actavis Pharma, and Par Pharmaceutical - manufactured 88% of the supply.

Fighting the opioid crisis...

To combat the country's deadly opioid epidemic, the government, federal agencies, and organizations have been working together to find a solution.

In April of this year, the National Institutes of Health, together with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), launched the HEALing Communities Study, which aims to prevent and treat opioid misuse and opioid use disorder (OUD) within highly affected communities in four states namely Kentucky, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts and reduce opioid-related deaths by 40 percent over three years.

Facing the music...

A notable development in the government's fight against the opioid crisis is the filing of criminal charges against drug wholesaler Rochester Drug Co-Operative and two of its executives in April 2019 for unlawfully distributing oxycodone and fentanyl, fueling the opioid epidemic. This marked the first-ever felony criminal charges against a distributor and its executives for illegal distribution of controlled substances.

Last week, a pharmaceutical distributor, Miami-Luken Inc., two of its former officials and two pharmacists were indicted by federal prosecutors for conspiring to distribute controlled substances, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

After all, it's the duty of the wholesalers/distributors to ensure drugs were not being diverted and to report suspicious orders to the government which Rochester and Miami-Luken have allegedly failed.

Verdicts that can set a precedent...

More than 2,000 lawsuits have been filed by state and local governments against major drugmakers, alleging that the companies aggressively marketed the painkillers despite knowing the risk of addiction and that they are liable for the nation's opioid crisis.

The first opioid liability lawsuit to reach the trial is the $17 billion lawsuit filed by Oklahoma against Johnson & Johnson. Last week, Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter and Johnson & Johnson gave closing arguments in the historic opioid trial, and a verdict is expected to be delivered in August.

Teva and Purdue Pharma were the other companies sued by Oklahoma. In March of this year, Purdue Pharma settled the opioid lawsuit by agreeing to pay $270 million, and in June of 2019, Teva agreed to pay $85 million to settle the lawsuit.

The developments in the first opioid crisis trial will be keenly watched as the verdict could set a precedent.

A lawsuit brought by Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Ohio against opioid makers and distributors is going to trial on October 21, 2019. These are just two of the over 1,600 opioid lawsuits consolidated in the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, in what is known as multi-district litigation.

Closing Thoughts...

The greed to make more money is driving some drugmakers to push opioid sales through deceitful marketing campaigns, thereby fueling the opioid crisis. On one side, the drugmakers flaunt their family-friendly image while on the other they profit off the suffering of their patients.

If no one is hooked on painkillers, or if people are strong-willed to avoid addiction, then there wouldn't be this problem of the opioid epidemic at all. But, that invites the question - Are drug makers flooding the market with opioid pills because of the huge demand or is it because of the unrestricted supply that people are encouraged to abuse substances?

Whatever the case, it is an undeniable fact that greed and addiction are two vices that are so deadly.

For comments and feedback contact: editorial@rttnews.com

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