Lawyer Monthly Magazine - November 2019 Edition

publicized for decades. They cited that 1980 Boston research paper over and over again, literally hundreds of times, as some sort of peer-reviewed “proof” that opioids were not addictive, or that the addictive properties were “overblown”. The evidence suggests that they knew better, but those roots are a big part of the story. Then there came black tar heroin and an avalanche of “pain clinics”, and Oxycontin prescriptions skyrocketed. This part of the story is chronicled beautifully by Sam Quinones in Dream Land, The True Take of America’s Opiate Epidemic. In two decades, more than 400,000 people have died in the opioid crisis; how is this currently being handled in the legal industry? You’re right. The death toll is staggering. A big part of the solution here will be, as it has been with other gargantuan societal problems that escape the attention of regulators the Veterans Administration, and other well-intentioned bodies, concluded that there was a wholesale failure in the medical community to adequately relieve pain in patients. These groups – trying to be helpful – declared that pain should be treated by the medical community as the “5th Vital Sign.” And that is what gave the opioid manufacturers their opening. Their opioid drugs were already FDA-approved, but they were typically intended for severe pain, such as the type suffered at end of life in cancer patients. Opioids were certainly never intended to be prescribed for “every day pain”. But, that’s how the manufacturers began selling them. Most unfortunately, they leveraged that 1980 article from the Boston researchers as support for what they described as a “finding that therapeutic use of opiate[s] rarely results in addiction”, declaring that this was a fact had been widely Can you briefly underline how the opioid lawsuit epidemic began? What I found fascinating when I first started researching the conduct that brought on the crisis, was that an unfortunate historical “accident” actually played a huge role in the explosion of opiate prescriptions. In 1980, two researchers working with a collaborative drug surveillance program in Boston published an article. The subject of their research wasn’t directly related to opioid use at all. But the article that was eventually published in the New England Journal of Medicine came to an erroneous conclusion – something the authors have long since publicly admitted and disavowed – that “despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare…” Then, in the 1990s the American Pain Society and In the 1990s, manufacturers unleashed a misleading marketing push underplaying the risks of opioid painkillers and exaggerating the drugs’ benefits. This caused many patients becoming addicted to the drug, leading to many deaths occurring in the 1990s and early 2000s, causing 700,000 deaths related to prescription opioid overdose since 1999, and to this date, there is an estimated 130 deaths per day in America due to opioid addiction. It comes of no surprise that there is a huge log of court cases to deal with the misleading, negligent and detrimental actions taken by manufacturers and their distributors. People are suing and demanding justice for those who were misled in this unfortunate epidemic, and this month, we had the opportunity to speak to a lawyer who has been working on such cases. Complex commercial trial lawyer Jeffrey Reeves explains below how the epidemic began, how it is progressing, and what can be done to reduce the likelihood of a similar epidemic reoccurring. LITIGATION The Current Climate in Opioid Litigation until lawyers get involved, is litigation. There are more than 2,500 cases that have now been filed in state and federal courts by attorneys across the country on behalf of states, counties, and cities that have seen their communities torn apart by human suffering, ever- climbing death tolls and the associated loss of productivity that death and addiction bring to a society. These local governments have had their public safety budgets decimated by the need to direct public resources to opioid-related issues. Just on the health and welfare side, for example, hospital and emergency room visits, specialty treatment costs, and of course, deaths, have skyrocketed. And crime- related resources have been diverted for years to assisting victims of crime and funding the increased burdens on the criminal justice system. And none of these financial losses even contemplates the enormous public nuisance that will take billions of dollars and perhaps a generation to abate. This crush of cases is not only bringing justice to those local governments who have borne the financial weight of the crisis, but it is leading to much-needed oversight and legislation. Professional Excellence By Jeffrey Reeves, Theodora Oringher 74 WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM | NOV 2019

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