Big Pharma Punished for Opioid Epidemic

Tens of thousands of people die every year from the opioid epidemic. Now, pharmaceutical companies are starting to face consequences.

Combatting the epidemic through the courts

Thousands of similar lawsuits aim at holding big pharma accountable for the tens of thousands of deaths related to the opioid crisis. One proposed settlement would reportedly force the Sackler family to give up ownership of the entirety of Purdue Pharma and pay out a staggering $3 billion of their own money. Beginning in the 1990s, pharma companies began encouraging doctors to prescribe opioids at higher rates. In 2017 alone 11.4 million people misused opioid prescriptions. 886,000 turned to heroin as a cheaper alternative and over 91,000 died from an opioid-related overdose. In 2017 the U.S. declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.

While state by state, executives in the pharmaceutical industry are expecting to go to court. It started with a few states, whose rural areas experienced the devastation of the opioid epidemic and sought to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable with lawsuits. Now, the movement is spreading: New states are filing suits over the opioid crisis at a rapid pace. But so are cities and counties, aiming to cease potentially dangerous opioid distribution practices, and recoup the enormous past and future costs. That expense includes caring for, treating, and sometimes burying the addicted; supporting their children; and paying paramedics, police, and city officials.

Chicago was the first city to take legal action in 2014, but over a dozen others have decided to file lawsuits in the past few years. Drug companies marketed and sold too many prescription drugs to too many patients, they argue, without offering adequate and accurate information about their risks. As a result, thousands of users have become dependent, often turning to harder versions of those originally prescribed opioids. In most cases, the pharmaceutical companies in question have continued to vehemently deny wrongdoing and reaffirmed their commitment to combatting the epidemic and promoting responsible use.