Trials loom in U.S. opioid crisis
June 3, 2019 -- More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, a two-fold increase in a decade. Almost 45,500 deaths involved opioids.
In 1996, a new synthetic opioid, a form of oxycodone called OxyContin, came on the market to help relieve chronic non–cancer-related pain. Its maker, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, claimed OxyContin’s slow release formulation would make it less addictive than ordinary oxycodone.
Purdue aggressively marketed and promoted OxyContin, and sales grew from $48 million in 1996 to more than $1 billion in 2000. In 2001 alone, the company spent $200 million to promote OxyContin.
Between 2008 and 2016, the Sackler family, which owns a controlling interest in Purdue, took home more than $4 billion from sales of OxyContin, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But abuse of the drug quickly grew as users found that they could crush the pills or dissolve the coating, then snort the drug like cocaine or inject it like heroin, to get access to large amounts of oxycodone contained in the pills.
Since 1999, more than 217,500 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses involving prescription opioids. States and cities continue to file a wave of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers and distributors.
In March this year, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to pay $270 million to avoid going to an Oklahoma state court trial. And now the first opioid trial has kicked off in Norman, Oklahoma, against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
The trial will be closely watched by the parties participating in a much larger trial overseen by U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster, set for October in Cleveland, Ohio.
Purdue faces nearly 1,900 lawsuits from cities, states and counties over its alleged role in the U.S. opioid epidemic.