Opioid Crisis | Top Stories from October

PR Newswire PR Newswire • November 4, 2019

The events of 2019 so far have given a glimmer of hope to people looking for pharmaceutical companies to answer for the damage caused by prescription opioids. What was long considered moral weakness is now being revealed in a different light: a targeted push by big pharma to market to people — especially women — at their most vulnerable. Here are the top stories from October:

Johnson & Johnson Reaches $20.4 Million Settlement Over Opioids

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson recently reached a $20.4 million settlement with Summit and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio. Many drug companies, including Endo, Mallinckrodt and Allergan, have attempted to reach private agreements with the Ohio counties in an effort to avoid being included in the upcoming federal trial.

The settlement is bittersweet for opioid use disorder patients as part of the agreement stipulates that J&J has to pay $10 million in damages and $5 million in reimbursed legal expenses. Another $5.4 million must go to Ohio nonprofits established specifically to focus on the opioid crisis. This money will be used to increase opioid addiction awareness and provide treatments such as naloxone, an expensive medication, to people of all income levels. However, there’s a caveat to the settlement that many people aren’t happy with: because Johnson & Johnson reached a settlement, they legally don’t have to admit any liability.

Doctor/Drug Pusher Gets 40 Years in Prison

Joel Smithers, a Virginia doctor convicted in May of more than 800 counts of illegal opioid distribution, received a sentence this month of 40 years in prison. Smithers is also required to pay a fine of $86,000. This is one of many recent cases of physicians being held accountable for running “pill mills” and contributing to the current opioid crisis.

Smithers claims that he was a caring doctor manipulated by deceptive patients; however his patients, some of whom drove hundreds of miles for a visit, say otherwise. In fact, every single patient at his clinic went home with an opioid prescription. In roughly two years, the physician illegally distributed more than 500,000 doses of opioids, and amassed more than $700,000. At least one West Virginia woman died as a result.

Johnson & Johnson Wants To Sweep Opioid Problems Under the Rug With $4 Billion Payout

In a new attempt to avoid bearing the brunt of the opioid epidemic, drug maker Johnson & Johnson has offered a sum of $4 billion to settle the 2,000-plus pending lawsuits tied to opioids around the country. There’s currently no word on whether local and state governments will accept the deal.

J&J has tried hard to present a façade of sensitivity to consumers while at the same time fighting tooth and nail against anything that implicates the company as part of the current crisis. For example, in August the company announced it was ordering its team of lawyers to fight an Oklahoma judge that had awarded a $572 million verdict against J&J.

Even this $4 billion offer is merely an attempt to soothe worried investors, since Wells Fargo estimated that litigation could end up costing J&J $5 billion to $10 billion. For reference, Johnson & Johnson sold more than $81 billion worldwide last year.

U.S. States Fight Purdue Pharma’s Motion To Block Litigation Against Sackler Family

Purdue Pharma, the maker of the oxycodone drug OxyContin, is trying to protect itself from over 2,600 lawsuits by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. More importantly, the company appears to be attempting to shield its owners, the infamous Sackler family, as well. It is common for a corporation to file for bankruptcy in the wake of severe financial liability; however, it is not common to extend the same bankruptcy protections to individual owners of a corporation.

Many state and local governments are crying foul, and more than 20 U.S. attorneys general have taken steps to legally challenge the request by Purdue Pharma. They argue that bankruptcy protection does not apply to individual Sackler family members facing lawsuits. The Sacklers have amassed an empire worth billions of dollars, and the family members facing suit have received at least $12 billion dollars in profits from Purdue Pharma.

Many lawsuits allege these directors were involved closely in the decision to intentionally deceive U.S. regulatory agencies and thousands of doctors for decades. According to plaintiffs, the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma recruited and trained sales representatives to market OxyContin as being relatively safe. The sales reps were instructed to tell doctors that the risk of addiction was less than 1%, which has since been proven to be a monumental falsehood. The company also gave representatives annual bonuses for increasing sales to doctors who were known as high prescribers of opioids, even if their conduct raised red flags.

Sesame Street Shines a Light on Drug Addiction

Sesame Street is known for tackling tough topics, and drug addiction can now be added to that list. Fueled by the current opioid crisis, drug addiction is sweeping the nation at alarming rates, which provided a perfect window for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the show, to create programming addressing the issue.

The children’s TV show explored the topic of addiction as a sickness in terms that children can understand. Karli, a Muppet friend of Elmo who was introduced to viewers as part of a foster care initiative that ran in May, shares that she’s in foster care while her mother is in rehab for drug addiction.

The episode is part of a video series by Sesame Street in Communities that can be found on Sesame Street in Communities, which provides a wealth of resources in both English and Spanish for parents and caregivers.

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