Prescription painkillers have been penned as the new gateway drug and have caused thousands of deaths over the past ten years. The epidemic has lead the city of Chicago to file a lawsuit against five pharmaceutical companies alleging they deceptively marketed opioid painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin for chronic pain management, even though the companies knew the drugs were ineffective at treating chronic pain and carried a very high risk of addiction.
After a year of drug document subpoenas, interviews, and fact finding, the city filed the lawsuit on Monday, June 2, 2014. They believe they have a very strong case against these companies and are seeking punitive damages for the city. The deceptive marketing practices have caused major health problems in the city of Chicago. The city alleged in a release, stating that opioid misuse resulted in over 1000 emergency room visits in Chicago in 2009. Besides punitive damages, the city seeks to end the deceptive marketing practices that have led to so much despair. Chicago claims that the City's Health Insurance plan “ has reimbursed claims for approximately $9.5 million on these drugs since 2008.”
If Chicago's allegations are found to be true, they explain the growing rates of addiction and death from opioid painkillers and heroin in the United States. Drug overdose deaths, majority of which are from prescription painkillers, have more than tripled since 1990, according to the CDC. In 2010, prescription opioid painkillers caused 16,651 overdose deaths in the United States. Overdoses are now the number one cause of death in the states.
In the 122 page complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the city of Chicago argues that the shift in the medical field to using opioid painkillers more consistently was the direct result of deliberately misleading marketing from pharmaceutical companies. According to the complaint, “In 2010, 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the United States.” It also reports that “20 percent of doctors visits resulted in the prescription of an opioid.” According to the press release, this accounted for the quadrupling of sales for these drugs from 1999 to 2010.
The five pharmaceutical companies named in the suit are Purdue Pharma L.P., Cephalon Inc, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc, Endo Health Solutions Inc and Actavis plc. The complaint argues that these companies led to a huge market for these drugs by telling doctors that they were effective for chronic pain management, which now accounts for roughly 87% of the opioid prescriptions given out in the country. These companies gave false information to doctors and in turn caused a massive amount of prescriptions written for chronic pain when the drugs are ineffective for this purpose. These companies collected over $8 billion in revenues in 2010 alone.
Chicago is the largest city to file a lawsuit of this kind. They did their homework and believe that they can win this case and collect money for the money the city had lost. A win of this magnitude may open the flood gates for others cities to follow suit. This could be groundbreaking and payback for the thousands of people who have lost their lives to opioids.