What Is the History of the Opioid Epidemic?

Nationwide Class Action Attorneys Explain Painkiller Addiction Liability

In 2017, the opioid epidemic exploded into the public consciousness thanks to several highly publicized reports and political discussions. However, this health crisis has been growing for decades. Due to events and practices which began nearly 30 years ago, millions of Americans are struggling with opioid addiction. Drug overdose is now a leading cause of death across the nation. Currently, as awareness of this epidemic rises, people and even whole municipalities are looking for answers – and looking for justice. Many have filed lawsuits against both the pharmaceutical companies producing these drugs and the doctors that over-prescribe them. Still, determining who is responsible for what may be the most serious health crisis in US history requires understanding the history of opioids.

Martzell, Bickford & Centola is New Orleans-based law firm that handles class actions and multidistrict litigation nationwide. We are currently reviewing cases involving opioid addiction and the over-prescription of painkillers. If you believe that you or a loved one may have a claim, then do not hesitate to call us today. Below, our pharmaceutical litigation attorneys explain the history of the opioid epidemic and discuss which parties may be liable for the crisis.

What Is the Opioid Epidemic?

When reporters and politicians talk about the “opioid epidemic,” they are referring to the fact that more and more Americans are becoming addicted to certain prescription painkillers. This is creating an expensive and deadly public health crisis. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury deaths nationwide. Other alarming opioid epidemic statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:

  • More than 12.5 million people misused opioid painkillers in 2015.
  • Of these, 2.1 million misused prescription opioids for the first time.
  • Over 33,000 people died of prescription opioid overdose. This statistic has more than quadrupled in the last decade.
  • 828,000 people used heroin; 135,000 used heroin for the first time. Opioid addiction often leads to heroin addiction, as prescriptions become harder to obtain and heroin is much cheaper.
  • Among new heroin users, one in four report starting to use heroin as a result of prescription opioid addiction.
  • Almost 13,000 people died of heroin overdose.
  • 91 Americans die from opioid overdoses every day.
  • The opioid epidemic totaled $78.5 billion in economic costs – in 2013.
  • From 1999 to 2010, the number of opioid drugs prescribed by doctors and hospitals quadrupled.

These are the most currently available statistics; however, based on these trends, the opioid crisis has never been more critical – and research reveals the epidemic has not yet peaked.

How Did the Opioid Epidemic Start?

According to the lawsuits now facing pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical and Johnson & Johnson, the root of the opioid crisis extends back in time 30 years or more. Opioids (sometimes called opiates) get their name from opium, which was in use as a painkiller for centuries. Later iterations include morphine and heroin. However, it was not until the 1970s that modern opioids like Vicodin and Percocet became available. Still, many doctors were hesitant to prescribe these drugs due to the fear of addiction.

That began to change in the 1980s when the New England Journal of Medicine, a highly respected journal, published an article claiming that narcotics carried a very low risk of addiction. Other journals soon began publishing similar studies.

Then, in the 1990s, pharmaceutical corporations began aggressive marketing campaigns for their opioid drugs. For example, Purdue Pharma released OxyCotin in 1996. It was originally designed to provide end-of-life pain relief for cancer patients. However, the company soon began marketing OxyCotin as a successful, low-risk treatment for non-cancer pain. Although it contained oxycodone, the addictive properties of which were widely known, Purdue Pharma continued to press physicians to prescribe OxyCotin for normal pain management. The marketing campaign downplayed or ignored the risk of long-term opioid addiction.

Many other pharmaceutical companies began to do the same until these powerful narcotics were being prescribed for conditions like arthritis and discomfort. As doctors continued to prescribe narcotics, drug overdoses and rehab admissions also increased. In some cases, addiction can take hold before even a single course of medication is complete. Then, to feed this addiction, victims may turn to harder and cheaper drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl.

Opioid Epidemic Questions? Call Our Drug Lawsuit Lawyers Now

Big pharmaceutical companies are now facing lawsuits from individuals and families suffering from addiction. These lawsuits claim that negligent and aggressive marketing is a major cause of the opioid crisis.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction as a result of a prescription opioid like OxyCotin, then contact us today. The attorneys at Martzell, Bickford & Centola can investigate your situation to determine if your doctor and/or a pharmaceutical company may be liable for your losses.

Our offices are in New Orleans, Louisiana, but we accept cases nationwide. Call (877) 722-9828 or contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation today.