19,000 people die in the United States every year from prescription opioid overdoses. And, as the number continues to climb, the City of Chicago is taking five manufacturers to task over their marketing practices of these dangerous and highly addictive drugs.
The city has filed suit against a who’s who of opioid manufacturing. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, Actavis, Endo Health Solutions, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries have been named in a suit that accuses them of, among other things, specifically targeting the elderly and veterans when marketing narcotic painkillers.
The City claims that ads for the drugs downplay the risk of addiction, and even go so far as to suggest that they are rarely addictive. The results, according to the suit, have been “catastrophic.”
Prescribed mainly to aid patients suffering from chronic pain, the rise in the number of opioid prescriptions being written to treat other, more minor ailments has captured the attention of the medical community and legislators alike. And, perhaps most troubling is the fact that manufacturers and distributors have been complicit in the problem.
Earlier this year, the Attorney General of West Virginia sued McKesson; the largest prescription drug distributor in the country, for its role in the delivery of some 99.5 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to the state over the course of five years; a state of just 1.85 million people. Had McKesson taken the number of legitimate prescriptions written for opioid painkillers into consideration, they would have seen that there was simply no way for that many people to legitimately take that many prescription drugs.
The AG argued that McKesson should have done the math, seen the problem, and stopped it. The truth, however, is that McKesson mathematicians were probably too busy counting profits to notice.
In response to the Chicago decision, Pfizer emphasizes that their participation in remediation is strictly voluntary – an altruistic gesture by a company that just wants to do its part “to help address the serious problem of prescription opioid abuse.”
In the meantime, as sales climb and distributors market more and more powerful narcotics, families and their communities continue to struggle with the aftermath.