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A Victim's Perspective

The Purdue Pharma Lawsuits- From a ‘Victim’s’ Perspective

I have read countless articles on the Nationwide lawsuits against Purdue Pharma under the Sackler family’s leadership. It is hard to miss the coverage of this lawsuit and I expect most readers have at least overheard something pertaining to the case. However, just in case some of you have been under a rock for the last 5 years, I will give you a short synopsis of events to date.

Purdue Pharma (PP), owned by the Sackler family, has been sued over 1500 times in the last five years for knowingly omitting the addictive qualities of their top pain killing product, OxyContin (aka OC). They have been accused of directly contributing, even causing, the opioid epidemic faced in America today.

Timeline of Events and Litigation:

1998- First, PP released this video:

https://wp.wwu.edu/hled151/tag/oxycontin/

20 years later, the statements in this advertisement are almost comical.

2000-RADARS releases study results: Oxycontin and hydrocodone are most commonly abused pain medications.

2001- A.G. Blumental of Connecticut urges PP to do something about rising Oxycontin abuse. PP releases plan to reformulate OxyContin. This is a lengthy process and AG Blumenthal states that PP has “a moral, if not legal obligation to take effective steps and address addiction and abuse even as it works to reformulate the drug.”

2003- D.E.A. found PP’s “aggressive methods” had “very much exacerbated OxyContin’s widespread abuse.” DEA concluded PP had purposefully minimized the risks associated with OxyContin use. (Source: The New Yorker)

2004- West Virginia sues PP for deceptive marketing, leading to excessive prescription costs. PP said OxyContin kept working for 12 hours after ingestion. However, the drug wore off around 8 hours and patients needed more pills sooner. This increased the state’s costs for OxyContin.

Outcome: Judge wrote that PP could have changed the labeling to reflect the actual effective time, but chose not too. PP settled with West Virginia out of court so the case never went before a jury. Case files, including all evidence in this case, was sealed and marked confidential

Settlement: 10 million for programs to help discourage the abuse of their drugs

May 2007-PP sued in federal court for knowingly misleading doctors, patients and federal regulators about OxyContin’s risk of addiction

Outcome: PP pled guilty to criminal misleading.

Settlement: $600 million dollars (largest pharmaceutical settlement EVER) High-ranking PP officials pled guilty to individual crimes. They paid a combined $34.5 million in fines and were sentenced to 3 years probation and 400 hours of community service in drug treatment programs. (Source: USA Today)

October 2007- Kentucky A.G. sues PP over extreme abuse rates in Appalachia.

Settlement: PP paid Kentucky a $24 million settlement in 2015 (8 years later!)

2010– PP releases ‘abuse deterrent’ form of OxyContin, known on the streets as O.P.’s because the pills are marked OP instead of OC. The FDA encouraged this new formula, stating they will continue to encourage innovative ways to reduce abuse in addictive opiate medications. (See FDA: Abuse Deterrent Analgesics)

I remember this switch vividly. The street value of the original formula OC pills skyrocketed to more than a dollar a milligram as the last of the OC’s were prescribed. Dealers had OP’s, but had trouble getting rid of them for more than the cost they paid. OP’s are harder to crush and dissolve, so they are more difficult to snort, smoke, and/or shoot. Users found innovative ways to get around the issue, some microwave the coating off the pills or dissolving the pills in different chemicals. It was not hard to find another user that could tell you their method of breaking through the abuse deterrent, but many users were not willing to put in the work. Plus, after the OPs were messed with, they did not seem to be as effective as the original OC formula. So what was a user to do? Switch to heroin! Many users who had sworn would never cross the line over to heroin, felt they had no choice. Many of us felt an anger at the FDA and Big Pharma for this effort to make pills abuse deterrent. The new pills may work to prevent the next generation for getting hooked on OC’s, but we felt left behind. Their plan backfired and the majority of us sunk deeper into using heroin, a drug we never wanted to touch.

2012-New England Journal of Medicine published study: “76 percent of those seeking help for heroin addiction began by abusing pharmaceutical narcotics, primarily OxyContin.” PP’s misleading marketing of OxyContin directly contributed to the U.S. heroin epidemic that followed.

2017- Everett, Washington sued PP for gross negligence over increased costs and failure of PP to step in when they had knowledge of irregular sales patterns of OxyContin.(citing the 2007 litigation above) Doctors were creating nonexistent clinics, using homeless people as ‘patients’ to purchase OxyContin and sell to users. This black market was so far-reaching, some pills were being prescribed out of pharmacies in Los Angeles! PP did nothing, even though sales had skyrocketed in Everett.

Damages: Everett is asking for PP to pay for the costs of handling the opioid crisis, which is a yet to be determined number.

May 2018-Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas sued PP for deceptive marketing practices. This made for a total of 22 total lawsuits filed against PP by other states and Puerto Rico.

2018- PP patents a new form of buprenorphine. Like Suboxone, the new pill is for a fast-dissolving wafer form of bupenorphine.

January 2019- 36 total states now suing PP. Massachusetts AG, in her lawsuit, identifies 8 members of the Sackler family who are ‘personally responsible’ for their ‘deceptive sales campaigns.’

March 13, 2019- PP manufactures an emergency opioid overdose antidote, nalmefene hydorchloride injection, with a longer duration that naloxone (aka narcan) and the FDA fast tracks its designation.March 2019- PP reached a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma, who claimed PP responsible for the death of thousands of Oklahoma citizens.

Lawsuits filed in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas are the most recent to join the hundreds of other suits filed against PP in the last few years.

April 2019- Cleveland-based federal judge, Dan Polsner, is overseeing “multi district litigation” comprising several hundred of the complaints filed against Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors.” Polsner stated that settlement discussion are going well, but three of these cases may see a trial in the upcoming months. A handful of private sector companies have now filed suit against PP alleging their handling of OxyContin drove up health insurance costs. (Click here for more on this)

A Victim’s Perspective

So, there you have it. All of these lawsuits, PP’s bad behavior, new drug patents, and FDA approvals have been reported on extensively. According to the proceedings, a large percentage of heroin addicts are victim’s of Purdue’s actions. However, I have not seen a single article written by anyone directly effected by Purdue’s actions. So, here it is:

The Appeal of OxyContin

Smoking OxyContinOxycontin was easy to abuse because it did not have acetaminophen in it, like Vicodin and Percocet. Oxycontin was 100% Oxycodone. As a result, Oxycontin could be snorted, smoked, and even I.V.ed very easily. Oxycontin pills were also manufactured at higher dosages. On the streets, 80 mg OxyContin were the most popular, and a single pill could keep a heavy user high for half a day. It would take 20 Percocet pills to have that same effect.

When I first started using pills, I was paying around 20 dollars a piece for an 80 mg pill. However, as regulations hit pharmaceutical companies and doctors were threatened with litigation to stop writing as many prescriptions, the street price rose to $1 dollar per milligram. Almost overnight, the pills we were getting for 20 bucks, were now hard to find for less than 80.

At this point, most street users, who were already physically dependent on the drug, faced a dilemma. Many functioning opiate users feared losing their job if they have to go through physical withdrawal. For many, the cost of detox was too high, so users had to get creative.

A short while later, OCs were pulled from the shelves and replaced with OPs. As described above, this move had unintended consequences. In a short time, due to regulations, prices had significantly increased and the formula of the pill had changed.

What option does this leave a drug user? I know what you are thinking, they should just get clean at this point. Let’s be real here, tho. Everyone knows how rare it is for a user to succeed in rehab the first time around and if the user is not ready to quit, good luck.

So heroin became very appealing. I remember the first time I called someone to get it for me. I debated pressing the send call button for 45 minutes before giving in. Like me, most other OC users switched to heroin.

We felt it was our only option at the time and a lot of us are still bitter it happened this way. If money had gone to helping people afford detox and treatment, instead of changing the availability and formula of OC, we may not be where we are today, in the middle of a nationwide opioid epidemic.

Who Else is to Blame?

PP providing misinformation to doctors about how addictive OxyContin actually was undoubtedly contributed to the heroin problem we see today and I am all for someone taking responsibility.  Hell, the billionaire Sackler family should be the one’s to take most of the heat.  After all, they are a huge reason we are in this mess today.

However, I want to make sure, amid this lawsuit craziness, we remember what led PP to develop and promote OxyContin in the first place. Even before OxyContin was over prescribed, we were headed in the wrong direction.

Our culture’s focus on reactionary medicine is what started us down this road in the first place. 

Those of us who became heroin users after using OxyContin are not only victims of PP. We are also victims of the U.S.’s symptom-focused model of medicine.

It is almost as if the US has been effected by the groupthink.

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

Groupthink

We know we should focus on prevention, but it seems easier to treat symptoms as they arise. We know this makes companies like PP rich and encourages them to break the law, but we choose to continue going to our doctors and asking for pills for every little ailment. It is easier this way, and most of us do not even realize we are doing it anymore

Had America been focused on preventative care in the first place, OxyContin would not have enjoyed the same popularity it did. PP could have produced truck loads of it, but doctors would be focusing on preventing pain instead of treating it. Fewer people would actually need pain killers and doctors would feel less pressured to hand them out like candy.

Reactionary medicine in the U.S. had already led us into a very scary place. Then, along come the millennials, I Gen and Gen z, the entitlement generations. Entitlement and Reactionary Medicine are a match made in heaven. I can say this because I am a member of one of these generations.

We feel entitled to get what we want immediately. If we are in pain, we should be able to get a pain killer prescription right away. Why not? We deserve it!

Ouch, I have a headache. A pill will fix this. Here you go.

Excessive Caffeine

I can’t focus in school, even though I drank 4 Mountain Dew’s for lunch! Adderall will fix this. Here you go.

A pill fixes pain right away. React, React, React. We have become experts at it.

PP used all of this to their advantage and made billions from it.

So yes, we can blame the Sacklers until blue in the face, but nothing will change. The U.S.’s Reactionary medicine model mixed with our culture of entitlement will continue fueling the opioid epidemic. This is why children are overdosing and we have failed to get our epidemic under control.

Until we start using preventative medicine and teaching our children they can not always get what they want exactly when they want it, nothing will be solved. The lawsuits against PP are a great smokescreen to distract us all from what needs to be done to truly fix our country before the real healing can begin.

 

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12 comments on “The Purdue Pharma Lawsuits- From a ‘Victim’s’ Perspective

  1. Wow. A kick in the pants directed to where it is needed. Support for those caught in this spiral of despair. A way forward, shining a light for those in the dark. Thorough research I love. It develops a solid evidence base to launch the counter argument for what ought be. By the looks of the American example what ought not be is running rampant. There is discipline, mental clarity, emotional stability and creative engagement with cheeky humor in this writing. Key ingredients for anyone looking for light in the dark a:)

    1. This means so much to me! For any of my readers, this gentleman writes a wonderful blog, Seeking Spontaneous Remission. Click on the blog to check it out. Some great information on his site. Very relatable for anyone struggling with finding treatment. Detox is important, but we must treat the cause after we have detoxed. If we do not do that, we are right back where we started. Thanks, Anthony!

  2. As the mother of a recovering addict I am infuriated by the politicians patting themselves on the back about the progress being made to address the opioid epidemic. I have seen no evidence that any progress is being made. The Arizona jails are full of young people who should be in rehab programs and job training. Their “for profit” model causes dreadful abuse of the inmates, untenable conditions and puts these addicts in a deeper hole when they are released.
    Throughout the roller coaster from hell with my daughter some of the scariest times were her release from one of Sheriff Joe’s jails…they let them out in the middle of the night, in the scariest part of the city where even the closest bus stop is a long walk along dark streets where they are much more likely to encounter a dealer or a pimp than someone to offer a helping hand….and just try to get the correct release information from the jail…ALWAYS wrong! We have waited HOURS outside knowing that there was a chance that we could convince our daughter to go to rehab instead of back to the streets…What should be waiting outside are counselors and a bus to a safe recovery center….Use some the the Purdue family billions to fund THAT!
    Furious mum

    1. Thank you for sharing. From personal experience, everything you have said is absolutely true. As a young women, being released from jail in Arizona is extremely nerve racking, especially when it happens in the middle of the night.

      It could take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours to process your release so there is no way to tell your family what time to be there if you want to avoid being alone in a scary part of town.

      I have heard, from other inmates, at one point the county stopped releasing male and female prisoners together because one of the females had been raped and murdered by a male inmate. I will have to research which parts of this story are true, but I do know they have currently switched back to releasing males and females at the same time.

      When you step outdoors from the jail, the fresh air and freedom feel heavenly. However, as you look around, fear starts to kick in. I remember walking to a Circle K down the street to ask to use a phone because I had no money for the payphone or bus. The Circle K employee immediately said the phone and bathroom were not for public use. I don’t blame Circle K, if they let me use the phone, they would have to let everyone else. Luckily, a man filling his gas tank at Circle K was kind enough to let me borrow his phone to make a call.

      It should be the jail’s responsibility to make sure inmates are safe. I would have felt a lot safer if a security guard was posted in the parking lot. You would think this would be a given outside a jail, but it is not. I also think there should be a courtesy phone outside the jail in case you are not released with a phone or, like in most cases, your phone has died or the service was shut off during your incarceration.

      I will be posting an article about my experiences being released from Maricopa County Jail soon. Maybe the right person will read it before something horrible happens to someone’s loved one after being released.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Really heart braking post. This theme is kinda ‘taboo’ for me. I’m speechless, but only thing I can say to you it’s bravo. Here in my country Slovenia this is not so widespread only thing that here a lot of people smoke is cannabis. This kind of thing we see only on TV, only rare in real life. I don’t even know what to say, because this is new to me. But I’m happy that you speak about this theme, because in our country if you start saying some of this thing all the people is looking at you like are you crazy… and we don’t realise that this is happening all over the world.

    1. Treatment entrants in Slovenia by type of drug:Cannabis, 4 %Amphetamines, 2 %Cocaine, 6 %Heroin, 69 %Other, 19 %
      This is just last year in Slovenia, so the problem is there, but you must be fortunate enough not to see it frequently. My mission is to help people see that this epidemic is GLOBAL. Too many kids are scared to speak up about their substance use and, as a result, the overdose numbers are climbing. 🙁
      Thank you Nina for stopping by and reading about something you may not have otherwise!

  4. I’ve seen the shocking pictures of people overdosing on opioids in the media. Every other day, I hear the commercial on the radio about the opioid epidemic and how the “world has run out of answers.”

    But, I have to admit, I’ve really not been following this situation closely.

    I certainly wasn’t aware of the history of litigation with Purdue Pharma (PP). It’s important for the public to be aware of this situation.

    And what good have the “settlement monies” done if any? The opioid epidemic doesn’t seem to have benefitted a single dime out of it…neither have the victims.

    We don’t trust our lawyers, but we hardly if ever second guess our doctors. And perhaps doctors have become victims themselves when they are told what to prescribe and they push it on their patients.

    Ultimately, I agree with your conclusions.

    I believe there is plenty of guilt to go around between the parties, they have all benefitted from their own carelessness and greed.

    In the end, the real losers are only the patients, the victims. A real tragedy.

    Very interesting post, too bad many Americans are more interested in watching the garbage on t.v., rather than learning about something that can have a devastating impact on them whether directly or indirectly.

    Great post!

    1. Exactly!

      And to your point: “And what good have the “settlement monies” done if any? The opioid epidemic doesn’t seem to have benefited a single dime out of it…neither have the victims.”

      I had to put law school on hold with one class left to finish. I thought I was doing the responsible thing by getting help and going to treatment. However, at the time, as a broke student, I had no health insurance. I had tried to get on to ACCHS, Arizona’s state insurance, but I was not eligible. (Shockingly, I would have been eligible had I been pregnant or had a child!) Therefore, all my rehab programs were paid for out-of pocket. I was fortunate to have family willing to help.

      Fast forward four years later, I have a boat load of student loans to pay off and I can not afford to finish that last class. I struggle to pay rent, groceries, Lyft, and my biggest expense, PROBATION FINES. I hear things like, “Biggest Settlement EVER!” but I have not seen a single penny from it. I have a huge issue with the amount of probation fines expected from those of us who are trying to doing the right things and get our lives back on track after committing, victim-less, drug charges. (And by victim-less, I am mean no victim other than ourselves)

      I hope the right people read this article because it is time our voices are heard!
      Please share and thank you so much for taking the time to read Christie.

  5. Heartbreaking and infuriating! How is it possible that PP executives escape responsibility with little more than a slap on the wrist? No jail time served at all. Once again, another indication of a two-tier justice system. No accountability for the hundreds and thousands of lives they’ve systematically destroyed, driven by greed. Disgraceful!

    1. I feel the anger in your voice; most likely because I empathize with your words so deeply. I have spent years taking responsibility for MY actions. Actions that led me to a dark place in my life: being homeless, physically dependent on opiates, and ultimately becoming a felon. In order to recover I had to take responsibility for how and where I ended up, but PP and the Sackler family, protected by the billions in their bank account, will never truly be held accountable. Until they are forced to withdraw, cold-turkey, on the cold cement ground of a tiny jail, from heroin or OxyContin, (the drug they manufactured and lied about being addictive) justice will not be served.
      Thank you Anne.

  6. Excellent article! It’s about time someone hands them the shovel, because we are exhausted digging all these graves

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