Cities Band Together to Take On Big Pharma Over the Opioid Crisis

Rural areas of the United States have been ravaged by the use of opioids in their communities for the last several years. In fact, recent studies show that over the past decade, opioid usage has increased by over 2 percent among adults in the U.S. and was largely driven by an increase in the long-term use of prescription opioids.

This has caused a number of health concerns for communities all over the country.

“Long-term use of opioids is associated with worse physical health, a higher incidence of benzodiazepine use, and higher rates of heroin use,” write the addiction recovery specialists at The Recovery Village. “Therefore, the study concludes, it is essential that doctors carefully weigh the risks and benefits of long-term opioid use in their patients before prescribing it.”

Because of this, the opioid crisis has quickly become a major public health concern, costing millions of dollars and affecting millions of individuals, their families, and communities. Seeking reproach, a small number of states sought legal reparations from the pharmaceutical companies that they believe to be responsible for the crisis. Now, this trend is growing.

New states are filing suits over the opioid crisis every day, and afflicted cities and counties are also seeking damages.

Ultimately, these communities aim to halt harmful distribution practices employed by pharmaceutical giants, but they also hope to recoup the enormous costs that have damaged these communities, as well as costs that they will incur in the future.

“In these cases, the plaintiffs are seeking damages to cover the costs of services including, but not limited to: medical care and treatment for patients suffering from opioid-related addiction or disease; treatment of infants born with opioid-related medical conditions; costs associated with caring for children whose parents suffer from opioid addiction; and law enforcement and public safety services related to the opioid epidemic,” Baron & Budd, one of the law firms representing these municipalities, wrote in a recent press release.

Chicago was among the first states to take legal action in 2014, but 10 other cities and communities have decided to file lawsuits in the years following. Seattle, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati have all filed lawsuits in the past three months, and there are rumblings that Miami might soon join. And the reasons for their frustration and subsequent legal action are hardly surprising.

According to the plaintiffs, drug companies have long been marketing and selling too many prescription drugs to too many patients, without offering adequate and accurate information about the risks. As a result of their negligence, thousands of Americans have become dependent on prescription medications, and when put in a hard place, many users turn to heroin or other hard versions of these prescription medications.

“Regardless of geography…their situation boils down to these drug distributors showing complete disregard for public safety in their never-ending quest for more money and more profits,” Baron & Budd Shareholder, Burton LeBlanc continued in the same press release. “These municipalities have been stuck footing the bill for everything from neonatal intensive care treatment for babies who are born addicted to opioids to an unprecedented number of bodies that must be stored in local morgues. It’s not right. And now we intend to hold these companies responsible for the disaster they have created.”

The cities and municipalities pursuing these lawsuits are bolstering efforts to hold Big Pharma accountable, in a similar way that state and local attorneys worked together to take on Big Tobacco in 1998, argues CityLab’s Sarah Holder. Twenty years ago, their efforts were successful. Tobacco companies were forced to pay out more than $200 billion in settlements for peddling harmful substances without properly warning of the risks.

These cities are hoping that similar results could happen in their efforts to stop Big Pharma, and it looks as though that might be possible. At least one state action has been successful. A lawsuit presented by West Virginia against Cardinal Health and Amerisourcebergen resulted in over $36 million in settlements.

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