What’s the problem? Each day in the U.S., more than 115 people die from overdosing on opioid drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The misuse of and addiction to opioids – prescription pain relievers, heroin, fentanyl – is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the U.S. is nearly $80 billion annually, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
Opioid Addiction Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of opioid abuse may include:
- shallow or slow breathing rate
- nausea, vomiting
- physical agitation
- poor decision making
- abandoning responsibilities
- slurred speech
- sleeping more or less than normal
- mood swings
- euphoria (feeling high)
- lowered motivation
- anxiety attacks
What is the Opioid Epidemic?
Opioid addiction in the U.S. has reached “epidemic proportions, threatening not only public health but economic health and national security,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). More than 800 people die from opioid-related overdoses each week in the U.S., and many experts say this number will continue to climb for years before it peaks. But what caused this crisis, and how can we turn it around?
What Steps Have Been Taken to End the Crisis?
The U.S. government over the past several years has been increasing efforts to reduce both the foreign and domestic supply of opioids, limiting the number of prescriptions written for the drugs locally, and providing counternarcotics assistance to countries abroad. Meanwhile, government officials have attempted to reduce demand by focusing more on treatment and less on punishment. Victims of opioid abuse have also begun filing lawsuits in courts across the U.S., seeking to hold manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry accountable for their part in the crisis.
Which Drugs are Contributing to the Epidemic?
Opioid medications — oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, etc. — are commonly prescribed to treat pain, while methadone is typically used for the treatment of opioid dependence. Doctors first started prescribing the drugs en masse during the 1990s for treating cancer patients and those who had undergone surgery, but since then physicians have increasingly dolled them out for chronic conditions, such as back or joint pain, despite concerns about their safety and effectiveness.
Opiate vs. Opioid
The terms opiate and opioid are often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect as they have altogether different characteristics. Opiates include natural substances and compounds that are derived from the opium poppy, such as morphine and codeine. Opioids are products that work by binding to the same receptors as opiates but do not occur naturally, known as semi-synthetic or synthetic opioids. While synthetic opioids are produced chemically, semi-synthetic opioids are a hybrid resulting from chemical modifications to natural opiates.
Is Heroin an Opioid?
No. Heroin is derived straight from the opium poppy, which makes it an opiate. Opioids are synthetically manufactured but bond to the same opiate receptor sites as heroin and morphine. Some law enforcement officials have labeled Fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 50-100 times stronger than morphine — as “manufactured death” because of its cheap price and high potency.
How to Recognize an Opioid Overdose Before it Happens
It can be difficult to tell whether a person is just very high or experiencing an overdose. If you’re having a hard time telling the difference, call 9-11 immediately — it could save someone’s life.
According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Unresponsive to outside stimulus
- Awake, but unable to talk
- Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic, or has stopped
- For lighter-skinned people, the skin tone turns bluish purple, for darker-skinned people, it turns grayish or ashen.
- Choking sounds, or a snore-like gurgling noise (“death rattle”)
- The body is very limp
- The face is very pale or clammy
- Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
- Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all
Opioid Death Rates
Overdose deaths associated with opioid drugs have increased 5-fold since 1999, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available), opioid overdoses killed more than 42,000 people or more than 6 times the number of U.S. military service members killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The opioid mortality rate that year contributed to the 2nd straight yearly decline of life expectancy in the U.S.
Are Lawsuits Being Filed?
Yes. Dozens of opiate addiction lawsuits are cropping up in courts across the U.S., filed on behalf of individuals and entities who claim manufacturers failed to adequately warn the public and medical community about the risk of addiction, overdose, and other serious potential health issues with their products.
One particular suit of note was filed in April of 2017 by the Cherokee Nation. The sweeping class action takes aim at pharmaceutical companies, distributors, and pharmacies involved with prescription opioids. Companies named in the lawsuit include national pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, and major opioid medication distributors including AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Cardinal Health.
What Damages Could I Be Awarded?
If you or a loved one was harmed by opioid addiction, you should contact our lawyers today to learn more about your legal rights. If we determine that you have a legitimate case, you could be awarded compensation to assist with medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering and other damages. Additionally, if the conduct of the manufacturer is found to be particularly egregious, you may be awarded punitive damages to discourage other companies from conducting business in a similar manner.
Update: Opioid Epidemic Linked to Decline in U.S. Labor Force, Study Finds
Feb. 13, 2019 – A new study published in Brookings Papers on Economic Activity has made a convincing case for blaming at least part of a recent downward trend in the U .S. labor force on prescription opioid medications. For the ‘first-of-its-kind’ study to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, researchers at the University of Tennessee looked at causal effects of opioid addiction in the U.S. labor force after a number of employers began asking why no one was applying for job openings.
Opioid Deaths Among Children Triple in 20 years, JAMA Study Finds
December 31, 2018 – Synthetic opioid medications have produced an increased death rate of 2,925% in children and teens since 1999, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The increased mortality rates associated with prescription opioids has resulted in almost 9,000 overdose deaths in young people over the past 2 decades, nearly tripling the number of pediatric opioid-related deaths during the same time period, the researchers found.
Do I have an Opioid Addiction Lawsuit? Talk with a lawyer today.
The Class Action Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in opioid addiction lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new cases in all 50 states.
Again, if you or somebody you know has been prescribed prescription opioid medicine and since become addicted, switched to a street drug, suffered an overdose or other injuries we would like to speak with you.
You may be entitled to compensation by filing an opioid lawsuit. Our lawyers offer a free review of your potential case. Please fill out the form below or call us directly by dialing (866) 588-0600.