Lawsuits Against Opioid Distributors: Are distributors at fault?

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

The opioid epidemic has been a growing crisis in the United States. Opioid abuse is responsible for a significant loss in lives and is extremely costly to society and payers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in 69.5% of all drug overdose deaths in 2018. The steady increase in prescription opioid related deaths is a major concern and many blame the rise of over-prescription to be a leading cause. 

Across the United States, patients, providers, and communities are accusing opioid distributors and drug companies for fueling the epidemic by neglecting to portray the addictive qualities and side effects of these drugs. Some argue that the inappropriate and deceptive promotional activities conducted by opioid manufacturers are blamed for off-label use and overuse of opioids for the treatment of chronic pains. More and more frequently, lawsuits are alleging drug distributors and manufacturers of being responsible for the growing opioid crisis and associated skyrocketing healthcare costs.  

Lawsuits against the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, have resulted in settlements of over US$10 billion. According to National Broadcasting Company (NBC), lawsuits brought by counties of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island allege Purdue Pharma of starting and serving the opioid crisis by understating the addictive qualities of their drugs in their clinical trials and promotional materials. Gurbir Grewal, the attorney general of New Jersey, stated “The Sackler family (Founders of Purdue Pharma) built a multibillion-dollar drug empire that was based on addiction.” Purdue Pharma is one of many opioid companies (Johnson and Johnson, Cardinal Health, McKesson) sued by cities and counties around the United States for misrepresenting the risks of using opioids to treat chronic pains. 

However, can manufacturers be the only actors blamed? Well balanced and transparent communication between physicians and patients related to prescription safety and the negative side effects of opioids are crucial in addressing the rising issue. Physicians and patients must both be clear in understanding the consequences of misusing opiate drugs. It is the responsibility of patients to recognize the possible addictive qualities of opiate drugs so that they can utilize their medications safely. Without proper opioid awareness patients may have a higher chance of falling victim to overdose.               

Some say that justice is being served through the lawsuits against the misbehaving corporations. However, according to the CDC, 130 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose. Can we assign a monetary value to a human life? Can we comfort a mother who lost her son due to opioid overdose? So, is justice really being served?


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