In the nearly 8 years that I’ve been with Experts.com, I have noticed a massive increase in the number of addiction medicine and pain management expert witnesses marketing their services with our company. Between 2010, when I joined Experts.com, and today, the increase has been nearly five-fold.
Is this increase a surprise? Based on what we’re seeing in the news, the answer is no. The United States is experiencing an opioid epidemic. According to CNN’s Opioid Crisis Fast Facts, “more than two million of Americans have become dependent on or abused prescription pain pills and street drugs.” CNN further explains, “during 2015, there were 52,404 overdose deaths in the United States, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. That’s an average of 91 opioid overdose deaths each day.”
Just last week, I spoke to one expert witness who experienced an opioid-related death in his family. The same day, hours apart, another expert began promoting his pain management and addiction medicine services on our site. This epidemic is impacting millions of families throughout our country. As a result of this epidemic, and much of the overdoses stemming from prescription medication, we are beginning to see significant litigation in the area of opioid-based pharmaceuticals.
Our Opioid Litigation Experiences:
Experts.com has processed more than a handful of expert witness referrals related to opioids. The cases have ranged from prescription abuse in family law settings to overdose issues resulting in wrongful death actions. Probably the most interesting opioid-related matter was as follows: general counsel for a mining company in a small town discovered the townspeople were using methadone at a rate approximately 5 times higher than the national average. Many citizens of the town were also employees of the mining company. They grew concerned about the potential liabilities of employees operating heavy equipment while ingesting powerful pain killers. The company decided to do some testing which triggered some privacy concerns and potential litigation. We have delivered toxicologists, addiction medicine specialists, and pain management professionals in dozens of different opioid-related cases.
In the last few years, we have seen stories of both civil and criminal litigation related to the opioid epidemic, even before it was claimed to be a crisis. Here are a few of the cases you may want to follow:
There have been many lawsuits against Purdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin) since the early 2000’s. As one article explains, more and more state and local governments are launching lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of heavy-duty pain medications. The frequency of these lawsuits is almost weekly. In addition to Purdue Pharma, Cardinal Health, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen, and others are targeted.
In July of this year, one of the lawyers, Michael Moore, who targeted tobacco companies in the 1990’s, began urging state lawsuits against the drug makers. By August, an Oregon County sued pharmaceutical companies for $250 million for allegedly persuading physicians to over prescribe opioids. As of September, Attorneys General in 37 states were urging insurance companies to do more to curb the opioid epidemic.
What can we deduce from the high-profile coverage of civil suits against the makers of pain killers? In my assessment, the worst is yet to come for the drug makers. This does not mean the drug makers are defenseless against the lawsuits. After all, there are others in the supply chain to be blamed: doctors, pharmacies, and the patients themselves. Over the long-term, the pain medication lawsuits are likely to be very costly for manufacturers and distributors.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to ask you to assume that there is significant drug related crime and we’re going to skip the standard (possession and distribution) opioid cases. Where I have noticed a substantial increase, both in the news and in requests for expert witnesses, is in criminal prosecutions of prescribing physicians and pharmacists.
As CNN described, “doctors are increasingly being held accountable — some even facing murder charges — when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed.” The article further explains that the DEA took action against 88 doctors in 2011 and 479 doctors in 2016. One of the doctors described has been convicted of murder. I see at least one new story a week where a doctor, or pharmacist, is being held responsible for the excessive amounts of pain killers prescribed.
The numbers described in the article above, combined with a more aware public, lead me to believe we’ll see even larger numbers of DEA actions against doctors when the 2017 statistics are available.
Other Legal Issues:
As you can tell, I focused on the two areas that I’ve noticed the largest increase in visible litigation. We have processed many other expert witness referrals associated with opioid issues. Many overdose cases are resulting in medical malpractice actions as well as actions brought by medical boards for ethical violations by doctors. We often see the requests for expert witnesses relating to emergency medicine physicians, toxicologists, pharmacy and pharmacology experts, and more.
Opioid litigation may very well be the “tobacco” litigation of our time. As such, we are confident that we’ll have more to write about and discuss in the future.
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