There’s no denying the fact that the U.S. is in the middle of an opioid crisis. Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths involving opioids—including prescription opioids—has quadrupled. Every day, 91 Americans die from opioid overdoses. In West Virginia alone, we’re setting new records every year for the number of fatal overdoses involving opioid abuse. It’s time to consider taking legal action against drug manufacturers. To learn more, contact a West Virginia opioid litigation lawyer today.
For years, legal professionals watched the increasing numbers of opioid overdose fatalities with a concerned eye and wondered how many fatalities were caused by prescription opioids and how many weren’t. Opioids—as the term is broadly defined—include both legal pain relievers and illegal pain relievers. In recent years, the numbers have continued climbing for fatalities resulting from both types of drugs, but the numbers for prescription opioid fatalities are higher than ever—and raise concern.
The Facts About Prescription Opioid Overdoses
Opioids are a class of drugs that reduce pain. As mentioned above, there are both illegal and legal types of opioids. Heroin is the most common illegal opioid and its use has skyrocketed in recent years. Among the legal types of opioids, there are numerous types:
- Fentanyl – Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is several times more powerful than most prescription opioids. It’s legal for use in medical situations where severe pain is experienced. It’s often used to treat cancer patients, for example. It’s also illegally manufactured and distributed nationwide.
- Oxycodone – Oxycodone (OxyContin) is a popular prescription opioid.
- Hydrocodone – Hydrocodone (Vicodin) is one of the most popular prescription opioids and is one of the easiest to obtain. It’s often prescribed to patients after they have surgery.
- Morphine – Morphine is another popular prescription opioid and is commonly given to cancer patients or patients who experience chronic pain.
- Methadone – Methadone is another popular prescription opioid.
Prescription opioids are dangerous because they are extremely addictive in nature. It’s estimated that as many as one in four patients who are taking long term opioid drugs in a primary care setting struggle with opioid addiction. The CDC estimates that almost two million Americans were dependent on or abused prescription opioid pain relievers in 2014. This number is astronomical—and it’s only getting higher.
Due to the addictive ingredients found in opioid pain killers, it becomes extremely easy for a patient taking opioids for pain relief to become dependent on the drugs to function normally. Soon, they’re taking them even without experiencing pain. The body can also build up a chemical tolerance to the drug which may force a patient to take increasingly higher doses to receive the pain relief they need to function. This combination is simply a recipe for disaster.
Taking too many prescription opioids can stop a person’s breathing or cause them to lose consciousness. Overdoses also frequently occur due to taking opioids along with benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines (often referred to as “benzos”) are central nervous system depressants used to induce sleep or sedation, prevent seizures, and relieve stress and anxiety. Common benzos include Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. These drugs should never be used when taking an opioid drug. Mixing the two can be deadly.
Examining West Virginia Opioid Overdoses
Nationwide, it’s estimated that healthcare providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013. When patients have multiple doctors that aren’t checking medication history thoroughly before prescribing opioids or writing prescriptions without exploring other pain relief options, this number continues to climb every year. Prescription opioid use is almost becoming commonplace.
Some states statistically prescribe more opioids than others. The states that prescribe more opioids tend to see more overdoses, unsurprisingly. Studies suggest that regional variation of prescribing opioid drugs can’t be explained by the underlaying health status of the state’s population, however. This suggests that addiction may be a far greater factor to overdoses than many medical professionals believe.
West Virginia is currently reported to have the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. In 2016, roughly 880 people died of a drug overdose in our state—marking a new record. Drug overdoses have become such an issue in West Virginia that postmortem transportation has become a financial burden. The state’s Department of Health and Human Resources has had to pay private contractors $881,620 so far in 2017 to transport deceased bodies to the state morgue for drug testing.
Some West Virginia counties are worse than others regarding the number of opioid overdoses experienced. One of the worst counties in the entire nation for overdose numbers is McDowell County, West Virginia. It’s estimated that the fatality rate from drug overdoses alone is almost three times higher in McDowell County than the entire state. Current lawsuits also suggest that opioid addiction has drained the county’s finances due to increased rehabilitation, hospitalization, and postmortem costs.
How Can a West Virginia Opioid Litigation Lawyer Help?
It’s an unfortunate fact that long term opioid use has not been fully studied until now. As more overdoses occur, it’s becoming obvious that the addictive qualities of prescription opioids are significant—and not simple to fight against. Recent studies are beginning to suggest that the highly-addictive nature of opioids may share many similarities with the highly-addictive nature of cigarettes and nicotine.
This raises one huge question—Have opioid manufacturers held back information regarding the addictive nature of long term use? Could they have done more to warn medical providers and patients regarding the possibility of overdose? Many states—including West Virginia—are starting to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers for injuries and suffering that resulted from long term use.
So far, at least 30 lawsuits have been filed against opioid manufacturers in the state of West Virginia. Other states like Ohio, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, and California are also filing major suits against prescription drug manufacturers. These lawsuits are tremendously complicated and may take years to settle, but they may have beneficial outcomes for everyone who’s become addicted or has suffered after taking prescription opioids on a long-term basis.
There is even evidence suggesting that in many of these claims, pharmaceutical corporations may have engaged in actions which potentially led to the opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, may have marketed their drug as relieving pain for 12 hours when they knew the effects usually wore off before that 12-hour mark. Since the drug doesn’t last as long as it was advertised for, this potentially caused some patients to experience withdrawal symptoms which led to addiction.
If you or a loved one has suffered from an opioid addiction or passed away due to an overdose you feel may have been prevented had a medical provider been more attentive to their medical needs or the opioid manufacturer provided better warning regarding the risks, DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons, PLLC may be able to help. Our West Virginia opioid litigation lawyers understand how to fight complex lawsuits and we aren’t afraid to go up against major drug companies.
Get in touch with our Charleston law office to learn more.