Americans who were over-prescribed opioid medications since the late 1990s by doctor-pushers motivated by manufacturer kick-backs may find some new relief in the form a multi-billion dollar cash settlement from the owners of Purdue Pharma which makes the well-known prescription painkiller OxyContin.
The Sackler family, with a controlling interest in Purdue Pharma, has offered to avoid years of lawsuits and appeals by paying out between 10 and 12 billion dollars to resolve more than 2,000 lawsuits filed by states, cities, towns, and tribes against the pharmaceutical corporation.
Victims of greedy Big Pharma companies such as Purdue Pharma claim their lives were ruined by the opioid epidemic that grips the nation in a downward spiral of addiction.
Just to clarify, an opioid is a drug that produced an effect similar to an opiate. An opiate is any drug derived from the opium poppy plant, including opium, morphine, codeine, and heroin. Many opioids are synthetic products (created in a human laboratory) rather than natural plant extracts. Examples include Methadone, Percocet, Vicodin, Demerol, and Oxycodone (branded as Percocet and OxyContin).
Under the settlement’s proposed terms, Purdue Pharma would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The principal shareholders, members of the Sackler family, would pony up $3 billion of their own money plus $1.5 billion from the sale of Mundipharma (another drug manufacturer).
The for-profit company would be re-organized into a public benefit trust corporation. Under the terms of the trust agreement, the legal plaintiffs would receive all profits from drug sales and other sources. Trustees appointed by the bankruptcy court would oversee the trust for seven to ten years.
Perhaps best of all, Purdue Pharma would be forced to provide its addiction treatment drugs free of charge to consumers.
Opioids sedate the part of the brain that controls breathing. Doses that are high enough can cause respiratory failure and even death.
Both opiates and opioids are highly effective for pain relief – and both types of drugs are highly addictive. Patients say their doctors never warned them of the dangers of potential long-term dependency and abuse. The doctors, in turn, point the finger of blame at the pharmaceutical producers who failed to furnish cautionary information to them.
In fact, the medical community received repeated reassurances from the Big Pharma companies that patients would not become addicted to opioid drugs, a situation very similar to the tobacco industry’s lengthy insistence that there was nothing to the allegations that tobacco use causes cancer – which has been proven to be true.
The opioid crisis has mushroomed over the past 20 years:
“In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.”
That year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency and announced and revealed a 5-Point Strategy To Combat the Opioid Crisis.
The HHS actions came one month after President Trump unveiled his executive committee on the opioid crisis, the U.S. Opioid Commission.
In October 2017, the Joint Commission, a national non-profit health care industry accreditation organization, released new pain assessment and management standards that require hospitals to provide nonpharmacologic pain treatment options, including acupuncture, chiropractic care, and massage therapy or educate patients about them.
In January 2019, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) reported that more than 130 people overdose on opioids daily. The financial consequences of drug addiction can be felt from the individual to society as a whole:
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total ‘economic burden’ of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”
In a prepared statement, Purdue Pharma executives said their offer is the best possible solution to satisfy the hundreds of thousands of wronged medical patients and the communities where they live:
“Purdue believes a constructive global resolution is the best path forward and the company is actively working with the state attorneys general and other plaintiffs to achieve this outcome.”
Attorneys general representing several states are pleased with the current negotiations which promise to restore the balance of justice. Jacklin Rhoads, speaking for the Pennsylvania attorney general, said:
“Our mission here has always been clear: make Purdue Pharma and the other manufacturers and distributors pay for what they did to Pennsylvania and its people and put the Sackler family out of the opioid business for good.”
The opioid overdose epidemic has killed more than 400,000 people in the United States since 2000. Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family settled with Oklahoma plaintiffs by paying out $270 million in March 2019.
Forbes ranked the Sackler family #19 on the nation’s wealthiest list in 2016 and estimated their 2019 net worth at $11.2 billion. Subtracting a few billion dollars won’t deprive them of their billionaire status.