Opioid Addiction Overview
Opioids are medications which interact with a certain set of receptors in the brain and certain areas of the body. The classification includes both natural “opiates” and synthetic medications which work on the same system. Both natural and synthetic medications, whether legal prescription or illegal street drugs can be abused, may lead to overdose and may cause opioid addiction.
In addition to relieving pain, opioids may cause euphoria, sedation and other effects which make them “drugs of abuse”. Ingestion or use of opioids in doses that are too large may cause opioid overdose and can result in death. Over time, abuse of opioids may lead to opioid dependence or opioid addiction.
Development and marketing of new and advanced opioid medications has led to what some have called, an “epidemic” of opioid overdose, abuse and addiction. Because of this still developing health crisis, a number of health authorities and law enforcement agencies have filled lawsuits against certain manufacturers for violating law through improper marketing practices and other violations.
People and family members of those who developed dependence or who were injured by taking pain medication have also filed opioid addiction lawsuits.
What are opioids?
The opioids are a class of medication that is derived from the drug, opium. They work to relieve pain by interacting with opiate or opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the body. The opioid class of drugs includes a number of controlled substance prescription medications as well as illegal or street drugs like heroin.
In the U.S., over 10% of the adult population reports that they are living with chronic pain. Though this number has not changed over the past several decades, the number of prescriptions issued for opioid pain medications has increased by three-fold. This is due to increased availability of modified opioids like OxyContin and fentanyl, but also due to increased marketing activity by drug companies.
Unfortunately, though opioids may be prescribed for legitimate reasons of pain relief, more than 3 million people in the U.S. are estimated to be living with opioid dependence. In addition to the problems of addiction, the number of overdose deaths associated with opioid use has quadrupled. Many cases of abuse, addiction and overdose began with someone else’s prescription or medication that was taken inappropriately.
Once a person has developed opioid addiction and is no longer able to obtain prescription medication, they may begin using other people’s medication, purchasing medication illegally or using illegal drugs like heroin.
Opioid Addiction Lawsuit
The number of opioid pain reliever prescriptions has skyrocketed in the U.S. over the last two decades. A three-fold increase in pain reliever use spurred by overprescribing, inappropriate marketing and drug abuse has resulted in a national health crisis of opioid overdose, deaths and opioid addiction.
Health authorities and law enforcement agencies at every governmental level have taken notice. Many have filed lawsuits against opioid drug manufacturers and distributors and well as pursuing criminal charges against pharmacies and physicians who improperly prescribe or sell opioid pain medications.
A number of people and loved ones of those who were harmed by prescription opioid pain medications have begun filing opioid addiction lawsuits.
The use of opioids for pain relief is not a new development as most drugs originated as derivatives or extracts that came from the opium poppy plant. Today, many newer synthetic or semi-synthetic opioid medications are available by controlled substance prescription.
A controlled substance or “scheduled drug” requires more stringent prescribing guidelines and procedures and may be tracked by state and federal agencies including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Misuse of controlled substances may carry much higher consequences and punishment than other non-controlled medications.
Common Prescription opioids:
- Oxycodone – OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Roxicodone
- Fentanyl – Duragesic, Pristiq, Abstral, Ionsys, Subsys
- Hydrocodone – Norco, Lortab, Vicodin
- Codeine – Tylenol no. 3, Phenergan-AC, Robitussin AC
- Propoxyphene – Darvocet N-100 (discontinued)
- Morphine – MS Contin
- Hydromorphone – Dilaudid
Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is also an illegal opiate that is not an approved medication in the U.S. and is sold as a “street drug”. It has also been sold in combination with fentanyl, leaving the user unaware that the drug may be much stronger than intended and more likely to result in overdose and death.
Fentanyl and a newer form, carfentanil which is even more potent, has also been transported illegally into the U.S. to be used in making of other illegal drugs and has created serious concern for law enforcement as a very small amount of the drug can be fatal.
Side Effects of Opioids
Opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain but are also considered “drugs of abuse”. Some forms of opioids are available as controlled substance prescriptions but are commonly sold illegally and others have always been illegal.
Whether obtained legally with a prescription or as an illegal drug, opioids may cause side effects including:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Drowsiness and Dizziness
In more severe cases or larger doses, opioids can also cause serious side effects which may include:
- Decreased breathing response
- Slowed heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
Opioid Abuse and Drug Addiction
Opioids are widely known to be drugs of abuse for their euphoric effects and after they are used for a short period of time, can produce physical dependence. Both of these conditions may increase the risk for addiction. Opioids also have sedating effects and may interact with other sedatives to increase the effects. Even when use is carefully managed, there is some risk for addiction due to dependence and abuse.
Opioids should be kept out of reach of people who may be likely to abuse them, including older children and teenagers. A large number of Americans, particularly teens have become addicted to opioid medication which was prescribed for a friend or family member. In many cases, the addicted person may go on to abuse other opioid medications as well.
Many people also believe that prescription opioids are safe because they were prescribed by doctors, but many opioid addicts were originally prescription pain patients who abused medication or failed to note signs of addiction.
Signs of Opioid Abuse
Opioid abuse will usually occur before addiction has developed. Signs of opioid abuse may include:
- Constricted or pinpoint pupils
- Presence of numbers of empty pill bottles, even when someone has not had a prescription
- Medication that belongs to another person has gone missing
- Unexplained spending with no evidence of purchases
- Money or valuables that have been stolen or are missing
- Missing work or school or social withdrawal
- Withdrawing from social activity
- Neglecting personal hygiene and/or household duties
- Excessive irritability or periods of excessive sleepiness
- Complaints of symptoms of flu or illness which may appear and disappear frequently
When someone has become dependent or addicted to opioids, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle aches
Opioid addiction will not usually resolve on its own and most commonly requires assistance. The first step in overcoming opioid addiction is to seek help.
One of the biggest dangers of the opioid epidemic is the possibility of fatal overdose. The number of opioid overdoses has increased due to increased use of opioid prescription medications and availability of illegal drugs which have been “laced” or tainted with fentanyl. About two-thirds of all overdoses involve opioid drugs, most of which include injectables, nasal inhalation or smoking but oral and transdermal overdoses still occur.
Signs of possible overdose include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Cold skin
- Slowed breathing or no breathing
- Fingernails or lips becoming grey, purple or blue
Opioid overdose results in lack of respiratory response and can result in death within a few minutes. Opioid overdose should be treated as a medical emergency by calling 911. In many areas, law enforcement is authorized to carry naloxone to treat overdose.
People and loved ones of those who have developed opioid addiction are considering filing opioid addiction lawsuits against certain manufacturers who may have marketed those medications inappropriately.
Opioid Addiction Settlements
Law enforcement agencies and health authorities have begun to file civil and criminal cases against manufacturers who have contributed to the public health crisis of opioid addiction. Companies, such as Purdue Pharma have been accused of inappropriate marketing, false claims and fraudulent activity including kickbacks paid to doctors for prescribing medication.
Purdue, manufacturer of best-sellers OxyContin and MS Contin, has been the main target of lawsuits filed by a slew of governmental agencies including the U.S. Department of Justice. In September of 2019, Purdue agreed to settle lawsuits with several agencies for up to $12 billion and though many more agencies may still desire compensation, the company has already filed for bankruptcy protection.
A number of other companies have also reached agreements for settlements of claims with nearly 3,000 local and state agencies which had filed lawsuits and were prepared to go to trial.
Agreements for as much as $45 billion in compensation, payments and opioid addiction treatment medication were tentatively reached with pharmaceutical companies and distributors including:
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
- Johnson & Johnson
- Cardinal Health
- McKesson Corp
- Amerisource Bergen
The national settlement includes $4 billion from Johnson & Johnson, $22.5 billion from Teva, $23 billion in treatment medications such as Suboxone and other payments from drug distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen.
Law Enforcement and government health authorities are already taking action to stem the health crisis, but individuals have been harmed by opioid addiction. People and loved ones of those who were injured or became addicted to opiate medications are filing opioid addiction lawsuits.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.