In response to a fierce and pervasive opioid painkiller epidemic claiming dozens of its residents each year, Long Island’s Suffolk County is accusing several major pharmaceutical companies of using dishonest marketing practices to downplay the risk of their prescription painkillers. The accusations materialized into a lawsuit late last month, which targets big drug makers like Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo International. The lawsuit is the latest in a series of filed by other major cities and could wind up being a referendum on the hones that exists on drug manufacturers to fully disclose the dangers of their products.
Other regional plaintiffs entangled in an ongoing battle against these drug manufacturers include Chicago; Orange and Santa Clara counties in California; and the state of Mississippi. At the heart of each suit are accusations that drug manufacturers are illegally expanding markets for their opioid painkillers and subsequently forcing taxpayers of each region to subsidize medications that are often needlessly prescribed. The suit plainly states that the defendants “sought to create a false perception of the safety and efficacy of opioids in the minds of medical professionals and members of the public that would encourage the use of opioids for longer periods of time and to treat a wider range of problems, including such common aches and pains as lower back pain, arthritis, and headaches.”
Proving culpability in these matters can prove to be extremely difficult. In addition to the enormous legal resources with which these companies to protect themselves, they can point to a number of historical policy initiatives that created a widespread need for their services, including landmark recommendations from leading physicians that downplayed the risk of addiction opioid painkillers pose. In a letter in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1980, Dr. Jane Porter reported that out of nearly 12,000 patients who had received a narcotic painkiller, only four became addicted. In a 1986 study published in the journal Pain, Dr. Russell Portenoy — at the time, a prominent proponent of narcotic painkillers whose work was backed by drug manufacturers — reported that only two of 24 patients treated with them for years had exhibited problems managing the medication. Other physicians expressed concern that by withholding opioid drugs, physicians could be under-treating pain.
The reality is that it can be very easy for these companies to turn around and place the blame on the medical community and even the United States Government for a continued pathology of efforts that’s created the supposed need for these drugs. In the meantime, more and more Long Island residents, and Americans in general, continue to have their lives destroyed as a result of the potency of these medications.