In August, a judge in Oklahoma ordered the pharmaceutical company, Johnson & Johnson, to pay a massive $572 million for their role in America's opioid crisis. This legal precedent, the first of its kind, could trigger other lawsuits across the United States as pharmaceutical companies are held responsible for their actions and marketing claims.
But how did we get to this point?
Why did a judge order Johnson & Johnson to pay this huge sum? And why is America's opioid crisis spiraling out of control? In this guide, you will read more about this landmark lawsuit and discover the truth behind the opioid epidemic that's sweeping across the country.
The state of Oklahoma has accused Johnson & Johnson of underestimating the addictive nature of the opioid drugs they manufacture. These include the drugs Duragesic and Nucynta. In this civil case, the state of Oklahoma claimed that the pharmaceutical company used misleading strategies when marketing these drugs and overstated the benefits of their use. In particular, the state argued that the organization created a marketing campaign that claimed opioids had a "low risk" of abuse.
The state disagrees with these claims. Research shows that opioids are extremely addictive and can result in death.
One study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that opioids contributed to nearly 400,000 overdose-related deaths in the U.S. from the period covering 1999-2007. Moreover, 6,000 people in Oklahoma alone have died from an opioid overdose since the year 2000, say lawyers in the case.
Oklahoma also noted that Johnson & Johnson provided various opiate ingredients to other manufacturers through its subsidiaries to create opioids like morphine and oxycodone.
So how did the state calculate the financial penalty? Oklahoma had asked for $17.5 billion (distributed across 30 years), but the judge settled for one year of assistance — $572 million.
"The decision on Monday by an Oklahoma judge to fine Johnson & Johnson $572 million for its role in the state's opioid crisis is only the first step in what promises to be years of complex litigation," says The New York Times.
"What this decision should not do, however, is further distort our understanding of the causes of the crisis and add to the misery of people in pain."
This landmark court case is vital for many different reasons. Firstly, it shines a light on the opioid crisis in the U.S. It also encourages other pharmaceutical companies to address the issues surrounding manufacturing and marketing opioids.
The opioid "epidemic" or "crisis" refers to the increase in the number of people who have taken opioid drugs in the U.S. As more people consume these drugs, addiction rates have soared. As a result, many people have had to seek out professional help to overcome their addiction.
"The opioid crisis is the worst addiction epidemic in American history," says Time magazine. "Drug overdoses kill more than 64,000 people per year, and the nation's life expectancy has fallen for two years in a row."
Some of the statistics about the opioid crisis are shocking. Every day, more than 130 people in the U..S die after overdosing on opioid drugs. These include heroin and other "street drugs," but also prescription drugs like painkillers.
For years, medical professionals have prescribed opioids for people with pain. However, these medications are extremely addictive and can result in an overdose.
Research shows that prescription opioid abuse in the U.S. amounts to around $78 billion every single year (once you take into account the costs associated with healthcare, addiction treatment, and criminal justice).
Here are some other facts that will shock you:
As you can see, America has an opioid crisis, and things seem to be getting worse. Policing, this crisis costs billions of dollars a year, and the loss of productivity associated with opioid misuse and addiction has a significant impact on the national economy.
So what is the government doing about this issue?
The Stop Opioid Abuse initiative, launched in 2018, tackles the forces driving the current opioid crisis in the U.S.
"As of October 2018, the Trump Administration had secured $6 billion in new funding over a two-year window to fight opioid abuse," says The White House.
"To curb over-prescription, the President implemented a Safer Prescribing Plan that will cut opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years."
Doctors prescribe opioids for various medical conditions, such as pain. They are "pain blockers" and activate the reward centers in the brain. This gives users a good feeling, and the mind wants to replicate that feeling.
Opioid addiction can be a gradual process, but it depends on the individual. Some people find it easier to come off opioid medication than others. In the worst-case scenario, opioid addiction can interfere with day-to-day tasks and make work and relationships almost impossible.
"Addiction is a condition in which something that started as pleasurable now feels like something you can't live without," says Mayo Clinic. "Doctors define drug addiction as an irresistible craving for a drug, out-of-control and compulsive use of the drug, and continued use of the drug despite repeated, harmful consequences."
At first, opioids produce a rush of endorphins (the body's feel-good chemical), which can make taking these drugs a pleasurable experience. However, over time, the brain becomes tolerant to opioid drugs and doesn't produce the same effect.
To counteract this, people sometimes increase their dosage of opioids. However, this is difficult when a doctor has prescribed the medication. Regardless, increasing the dosage of opioids is one driving factor of addiction. Many people who are unable to source more opioids from their doctor might turn to the black market and illegally obtain these drugs.
"Some illegally obtained drugs, such as fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora), are laced with contaminants, or much more powerful opioids," says Mayo Clinic. "Because of the potency of fentanyl, this particular combination has been associated with a significant number of deaths in those using heroin."
Here's the thing: opioids can reduce pain, but they are addictive. Doctors should talk to patients about the dangers of using these drugs and utilize them as a short-term solution only. The more patients are aware of the risks of these drugs, the less likely they are to misuse them.
Better education in schools and other social institutions can also educate people about the dangers of opioids.
Once people know about the death rates associated with these drugs, they might be less inclined to use them and manage pain in an alternative fashion. Medical professionals can help them achieve these goals.
"Overdoses killed more people in the U.S. in 2015 than car crashes and gun deaths combined," says The Guardian. "The daily death toll is 142 fatal overdoses, 91 of them from opioids, adding up to almost 52,000 drug overdose deaths in 2015."
In order to overcome addiction, a person needs to realize the symptoms of substance abuse. Denial will often prevent someone from receiving the treatment they need.
Friends and family can also look out for these symptoms and talk to loved ones about possible substance abuse. These symptoms include nervousness, extreme energy, talking fast, losing interest in activities, making new friendship groups, spending time alone, fluctuating moods, and financial hardship.
It's not always possible to tell the signs of opioid abuse, however. This is why it's crucial that the person who has the abuse problem makes the first step.
There are many different types of therapy that can help someone overcome addiction. However, most of these take place in a detox setting. This provides someone who struggles with substance abuse a sanctuary away from their family and circle of friends. Here, they can learn coping and management techniques, change their behaviors, and find out the root cause of their addiction.
Detox is not always comfortable. Sometimes, it means days or weeks away from loved ones. Patients might also struggle with the symptoms associated with withdrawal. Visiting a reputable detox treatment center, however, will help someone on their road to recovery.
"Withdrawal from opioids can be difficult and even dangerous. Trying to quit ‘cold turkey' is not recommended, ASAM [American Society of Addiction Medicine] advises because it can lead to stronger cravings and continued use," says the American Society of Anesthesiologists. "The safest way to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms is through medically supervised treatment that generally includes medicines, counseling, and support."
Research shows that detox can increase the chances of someone overcoming addiction. Whether it's drugs or alcohol, detox can provide someone with the skills they need for recovery. There are different types of detox. Some involve counseling and group sessions; others incorporate medication to replace opioids.
Detox is most effective when combined with other drug treatment techniques:
"Medical detoxification safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug use," says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "However, medical detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use. Although detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence, for some individuals, it is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment."
Drug detox can alleviate some of the difficult symptoms associated with withdrawal. Trained professionals will customize a detox program based on the needs of the patient and take into account their history and behaviors. Detox can also prevent someone from relapsing once they have completed their drug treatment program.
There are so many rehab centers out there; it can be difficult to know where to start. Some centers offer outpatient clinics; others work exclusively with teens. Some centers specialize in medical detox; others specialize in inpatient treatment.
Using a resource like Addiction Helpline America will help you find the right rehab center if you suffer from opioid addiction or know somebody who is. Here, you can find verified treatment centers across the U.S. and discover the best program for opioid addiction. This way, you don't have to spend hours searching for treatment centers on the internet. You'll find everything you need in one place.
Using Addiction Helpline America is easy. Just click on your state and then find a rehab center. You can contact them directly and find out more about their services and programs.
Last month, a judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson were responsible for understating the impact of their opioid products. In this landmark ruling, the organization claimed that its ingredients were low risk. As you can see, opioid addiction is a real problem, and many people become dependent on these drugs after a doctor prescribes them.
The opioid epidemic in the U.S. seems like it's getting worse, with opioid addiction the cause of many deaths. Despite legislative changes and civil court rulings (like the one above), people still need to understand the dangers of these drugs.
For people who struggle with opioid addiction, however, there is still hope. Visiting a rehab center for detox can provide them with the skills they need on their road to recovery. There are various types of detox and rehab programs that professionals customize to the individual patient.
People looking for support don't have to search for long. Addiction Helpline America provides the public with resources for detox treatment in their local area. Searching for rehab centers takes just seconds, and it could save lives.
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