The opioid crisis is in the news now more than ever. In one week last month, three major publications released updates on opioid abuse and death–the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), CNN, and TIME magazine. However, the opioid crisis is not a recent phenomenon. The over-prescription of opioid narcotics, often leading to opioid abuse and death, has been 20 years in the making. Unfortunately, the problems stemming from these drugs are getting worse and will continue to get worse before they get better.
In the late 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies erroneously assured physicians that opioids were not addictive. As a result, doctors began to prescribe them at a high rate, sometimes for long periods of time. Doctors refilled these prescriptions without regularly checking to see if they were effective, or if something over-the-counter might produce the same effect.
As health providers and government officials continue to address the overuse of prescription opioids, the number of patients suffering from addiction and death from opioid use continues to rise. Innocent patients, plagued by chronic and severe pain, have trusted physicians to relieve their symptoms safely and effectively. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Continued use of prescription opioids has resulted in opioid abuse and death for many patients.
In 2016, opioid overdoses resulted in more than 42,000 deaths, more than any previous year on record. Half of these deaths involved prescription opioids. And they continue to rise. Emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased by about 30% across the United States between June 2016 and September 2017, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2017 HHS declared a public health emergency and announced a 5-Point Strategy To Combat the Opioid Crisis. As recently as last week, the President vowed for the death penalty for drug dealers caught selling opioids. But what about the prescriptions that are obtained legally? What are the legitimate reasons for prescribing opioids for pain relief?
According to the March 6th edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a recent study in the U.S. found that acetaminophen, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are actually better than opioids at reducing chronic pain in the back, knees or hips. This study found that opioids are no better than these over-the-counter medications at reducing how much pain interferes with daily activities like walking, working, sleeping or enjoying life.
Not that prolonged use of NSAIDS doesn’t also carry risks. NSAIDs, especially at high doses, include the potential for internal bleeding, kidney damage and heart attacks. But they aren’t addictive.
Amid this worsening opioid crisis, the CDC has urged physicians to use opioids only as a last resort. They are encouraging doctors to suggest other methods of pain relief, such as exercise or physical therapy to help ease symptoms and prescribe other, less addictive drugs for pain including acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. This is progress, but now the health care industry must comply. The treatment regimens must change.
Even in recent years, some doctors have chosen to put profit over safety when it comes to prescribing opioids for their patients. According to a March 12 CNN exclusive report, in 2014 and 2015, opioid manufacturers paid hundreds of doctors across the country six-figure sums for speaking, consulting and other services. Thousands of other doctors were paid over $25,000 during that time. Physicians who prescribed particularly large amounts of the drugs were the most likely to get paid.
The CNN/Harvard analysis looked at 2014 and 2015, during which time more than 811,000 doctors wrote prescriptions to Medicare patients. Of those, nearly half wrote at least one prescription for opioids. Fifty-four percent of those doctors — more than 200,000 physicians — received a payment from pharmaceutical companies that make opioids.
Concerns about payments to doctors by opioid manufacturers were brought to light last year in a study by researchers at Boston University. In all, several studies published in medical journals in recent years have found an association between payments by pharmaceutical companies for various types of drugs and doctors’ prescribing habits.
When doctors over and unnecessarily prescribe opioids without properly weighing the risk-benefit analysis for their patients, they should be held accountable, especially if they are receiving monetary gains from the drug manufacturer.
When a drug company sells highly addictive drugs and fails to communicate those risks to doctors and the public, they should also be held accountable. When a pharmaceutical company entices doctors to prescribe their product and then patients unknowingly develop addiction to a seemingly safe medication, victims should hold the companies responsible.
Opioid overdose and death are unfortunate consequences faced by many patients who have suffered due to the healthcare industry.
At Preuss | Foster Law, we are experienced opioid abuse and death lawyers. Our attorneys are leaders in pursuing medical product liability and medical malpractice lawsuits involving opioid overdose and death, and we offer free investigations into these cases for individuals like you. No payment is required until compensation is collected on your behalf.
The healthcare industry has let down millions of patients who trusted their providers to prescribe safe and effective relief for their pain. If you or a loved one has suffered from opioid abuse, or experienced opioid overdose and death, don’t go it alone–we’re here to help. Preuss | Foster Law is experienced, innovative and determined to provide brighter futures for those hurt by companies that value profit over safety. Give us a call at 816-307-2788; the road to recovery starts today.