By Emily Pan
On May 31st, 2017 Ohio became the second state to sue companies such as Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson and Allergan for fueling the ongoing Opioid addictions. Ohio primarily took legal action because companies underestimate the detrimental risk of opioid addiction and overstated their benefits in easing chronic pains. In 2015, both Mississippi and Kentucky sued the same companies for the same claims; they settled the case eventually. However, in neither cases did these companies admit to any wrongdoing.
In recent years, the opioid addiction in Ohio alone has increased significantly. In 2016, roughly 20% of Ohio’s population had been prescribed an opioid (1). In just 4 years, 3.8 millions prescriptions were made out for opioids as painkillers including oxycontin and percocets (2). Many people turn to pharmaceutical companies for blame, and with good reason. Companies often trivialize the side effects of opioids and merely highlight the benefits of using them for pain relief. One company, Purdue Pharma, purposely misled consumers in order to trigger an addiction to their opioids. The company marketed their drug as a pain reliever that lasts for 12 hours yet they knew it lasted for a much shorter period. With consumers believing the drug could last for 12 hours, they suffered strong withdrawal symptoms and slowly became addicted (1).
While the main group affected by these companies are the consumers, states have also been largely affected. This is because each year, millions of dollars are spent on purchasing opioids as painkillers for programs like Medicaid, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, and various state programs to diminish drug use. If these companies truthfully stated the major side effects of their medications, states would not need to allocate money to buying these drugs, and thousands of deaths could be prevented (2). Furthermore, babies born from mothers with opiate drug addictions suffer many health risks and require states to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help them.
Although one might believe the state of Ohio has an easy case to make since companies mislead consumers, there are many setbacks. The companies that are being sued claim that the only cause for opioid addiction is the consumer themself. Law professor Lars Noah explains that it is difficult for lawsuits to specifically target the deceptive marketing of companies when consumers fail to use the opioids as directed. When consumers do not follow the directions given with opioids, the courts blatantly state that they believe the problems caused by opioids are results from the actions from consumers, not the companies. Additionally, these companies often place the blame on doctors who prescribed the medication in the first place.
Ultimately, it proves to be extremely difficult to pinpoint the cause of the opioid addiction epidemic. It is impossible to place the blame on one group. While companies largely catalyze citizens to become addicted to these dangerous drugs, doctors sometimes also downplay opioid effects just as companies do. In the end, the common goal should be to stop these fatal addictions and put an end to the thousands of lives lost to them. Perhaps the only solution to ending this epidemic is the fear factor. Emphasizing the side effects of opioid addiction may scare people to stop abusing opioids and eventually decrease the amount of addictions.