Opioids—drugs like OxyContin, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Morphine, or Fentanyl—are a class of narcotic drugs that have claimed the lives of over 190,000 Americans in the last 20 years. Perhaps better known as prescription painkillers, or even by their street drug name “hillbilly heroin,” America’s opioid problem has reached epidemic proportions. And, unsurprisingly, this plague is mirrored by a tremendous increase in the amount of prescriptions written by doctors across America. That’s right: America’s opioid epidemic is man-made.
The Simon Law Firm, P.C. is prepared to fight this epidemic, and believes the civil justice system is an overlooked and under utilized tool that can be used to fight America’s opioid problem. Attorneys John Simon and Tim Cronin took a first and monumental step this month in the battle against the harms caused by opioid addiction obtaining a $17.6 million dollar verdict on behalf of clients who fell victim to the scourge of America’s opioid epidemic. In a series of blog posts, we will discuss the case, in an attempt to shed light on what we believe to be the heart of the problem.
But in order to understand the significance of the case, and each piece of evidence, it is necessary first to understand the background—in short, the story of America’s opioid epidemic.
WHAT ARE OPIOIDS
Opioids are prescription strength painkillers. Classified as schedule 2 drugs by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, meaning they “have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.”
How do they work? Opioids “reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus.” Opioids act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. When these drugs attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain.
Tolerance and dependence develop with continuous use, requiring increasing doses and leading to a withdrawal syndrome upon abrupt discontinuation. But what’s more troubling however, is that these drugs produce a sensation of euphoria. Thus, to get the same sense of euphoria, a person has to take more and more drugs. And, just like that, a person is pushed silently, but violently, into the throes of a prescription drug addiction.
STATISTICS THAT TELL A HORRIFYING STORY
There is no question: opioids are an incredibly effective painkiller. These pills literally prevent the body from feeling pain. But ingesting these drugs also comes with enormous risk, including respiratory depression, overdose, addiction, and death. And these side effects, unfortunately, are not uncommon.
More people die from drug overdose than car accidents. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014. From 1999 to 2013, the rate for drug poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics nearly quadrupled. The data is overwhelming.
WHAT SHOULD OPIOIDS BE USED FOR?
Even a quick glance at these numbers begs the question: what, if anything, should these narcotics be used for? This question strikes at the heart of an age-old debate in the medical community—a debate that has gone on far too long.
Opioids are generally used to treat acute episodes of severe pain i.e. post-surgical pain, injury-related pain. More controversially, some doctors are willing to prescribe these drugs to patients with chronic pain, such as patients with chronic pancreatitis or sickle-sell anemia.
Inappropriately, some members of the medical profession deem it appropriate to prescribe opioids, on a long-term basis, for run-of-the-mill chronic pain—such as lower back pain. There is absolutely no evidence that long-term opioid therapy provides patients with such conditions with any long-term benefit, but irrefutable evidence that these drugs can cause patients a world of harm. The tide has turned. Prescribing opioids for such chronic conditions is too dangerous, exposes patients to an inordinate amount of risk and little to no benefit, and simply should not happen.
THIS EPIDEMIC STOPS NOW
Behind each number, each statistic is a family torn apart by the evils of addiction. Through this series of blog posts, The Simon Law Firm, P.C. hopes to shed some light on the evils—and causes—of the opioid epidemic, potential strategies to reduce misuse and abuse of opioid medication, and provide those who have been affected an avenue for hope—an avenue for justice. We hope, through our actions, we can save lives.
At The Simon Law Firm, P.C., our St. Louis medical malpractice attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights of our clients whose lives have been affected by this epidemic. If you are interested in speaking with one of our attorneys, fill out the form on our website or give us a call at (314) 241-2929.