The makers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin are facing a lawsuit alleging the company knowingly allowed pills to flow into the black market, feeding addiction.
Mayor Ray Stephanson of Everett, Washington, is suing pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma for gross negligence, alleging the company turned a blind eye to suspicious activities that funneled pills into the streets of Everett, where opioid abuse is now rampant. Stephanson said “Purdue’s drive for profit” directly fueled opioid addictions in the community and the rising rate of heroin abuse, reports The News-Herald.
The lawsuit alleges Purdue Pharma was actively “supplying OxyContin to obviously suspicious pharmacies and physicians and enabling the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market.” Claims made in May by the Los Angeles Times that Purdue Pharma knew about illegal trafficking of its pills but did nothing sparked the lawsuit.
“Our community has been significantly damaged, and we need to be made whole,” Stephanson said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Representatives for Purdue Pharma said the lawsuit is a misrepresentation of what sparked the opioid crisis in Everett and “look forward to presenting the facts in court.”
Everett experienced a large spike in heroin abuse after Purdue Pharma reformulated OxyContin in 2010 to make it much harder to abuse. One out of five heroin deaths in Washington between 2011 and 2013 occurred in Everett. In the absence of abusable Oxycontin, former users turned to heroin in large numbers to attain the same high. (RELATED: How One Pain Pill Sparked A Three-Fold Increase In Heroin Deaths)
The movement to heroin following Purdue Pharma’s reformulation in 2010 was seen on a national scale. Researchers from RAND Corp. and the Wharton School concluded abuse-deterrent OxyContin is directly responsible for roughly “80% of the three-fold increase in heroin mortality since 2010.”
“States with the highest initial rates of OxyContin misuse experienced the largest increases in heroin deaths,” wrote the authors in the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Results show that this differential increase in heroin deaths began precisely in the year following reformulation.”
The reformulation succeeded in its intended purpose of reducing overall abuse of OxyContin, but it came with disastrous unintended consequences. There are 3.1 more heroin deaths per 100,000 people for every percentage decrease in OxyContin abuse.
The FDA is promoting the creation of more abuse-deterrent prescription pain medications to replace the current pills in production.
A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.
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