JAN 09, 2018 4:45 PM PST

To fight the opioid epidemic, take drug makers to court?

Litigation against drug manufacturers that produce and distribute opioids could be a promising option in the fight against the opioid addiction crisis, according to a new article.

In the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Rebecca Haffajee of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, along with Michelle Mello of Stanford University, analyze the history of litigation efforts to hold those parties accountable.

To date, lawsuits have enjoyed limited success, at best settling for amounts not likely to financially harm manufacturers and distributors in the $13 billion-a-year industry enough to prompt change, says Haffajee, assistant professor of health management and policy and an attorney. She also is affiliated with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

“Early litigation brought by individuals harmed by prescription opioids against drug companies was minimally effective at mitigating the epidemic, in terms of guilty verdicts, large payouts, or industry changes in behavior,” she says. “However, in more recent years, litigation holds greater promise to succeed and reduce public health opioid harms, thanks to the large numbers of suits waged by governments and innovative legal theories they employ.”

Haffajee says there have been more than 100 cases filed by state and local governments, and more are in the pipeline.

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes prescription pain pills and illicitly manufactured substances like heroin and fentanyl. According to the authors, more than 300,000 people have died from opioid-related overdoses since 2000, and it’s expected another half million lives will be lost in the next decade. Health professionals across the country are attempting to slow the epidemic by encouraging physicians to prescribe fewer of the medications and raising awareness about the dangers with the public.

In the piece, the authors note that opioid lawsuits bear similarities to tobacco litigation, in that the suits involve addictive substances and are being brought by classes of similarly situate individuals and by governments.

Some of the legal arguments are also similar: that the companies were fraudulent in how they represented the harms of these products and promoted product use in a manner that enabled unjust enrichment—or company profiting at the expense of the government.

“But prescription opioids differ from tobacco, in that they are FDA-approved substances,” Haffajee says. “So many claims around defective design and failure to warn (such as on packaging) are less credible for opioids than they were for tobacco.”

Add to this that individuals that opioids harm often did not take them as prescribed and doctors overprescribed them, and company liability is a bit more difficult to establish, she says.

“The most promising legal claims are those that avoid plausible opioid company defenses—such as that the products were FDA-approved, or that individuals and physicians misused or misprescribed the drugs,” Haffajee explains.

“So government claims of fraud, misbranding, public nuisance, unjust enrichment, and failure to maintain effective controls (under the Controlled Substances Act) stand the best chance of success,” she says.

 

This article was originally posted on futurity.org

About the Author
  • The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs about 2,700 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists-including two Nobel laureates-work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.
You May Also Like
NOV 10, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Inflammation during pregnancy can affect normal brain development
NOV 10, 2021
Inflammation during pregnancy can affect normal brain development
During pregnancy the growing embryo and fetus undergo remarkable and quick developmental. Around 5 weeks after ...
NOV 29, 2021
Cancer
An Amino Acid Can Improve Radiation Therapy for Metastatic Brain Cancer
NOV 29, 2021
An Amino Acid Can Improve Radiation Therapy for Metastatic Brain Cancer
There are 20 different amino acids that the human body uses to generate proteins.  Amino acids form chains called p ...
DEC 01, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Researchers develop a novel drug that can combat diabetic tissue damage
DEC 01, 2021
Researchers develop a novel drug that can combat diabetic tissue damage
Diabetes is a common disease that occurs when high levels of blood sugar start to silently damage bodily tissue and orga ...
DEC 08, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
GenElute™-E Single Spin DNA and RNA Purification Technology
DEC 08, 2021
GenElute™-E Single Spin DNA and RNA Purification Technology
Scientists in diverse lab settings often seek optimized technologies and methodologies that improve the quality of their ...
JAN 04, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
A New Method to Lengthen Drug Life
JAN 04, 2022
A New Method to Lengthen Drug Life
Deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, is being used to extend the lifetime of pharmaceuticals. New research published in An ...
JAN 20, 2022
Clinical & Molecular DX
Nanoparticles Put To the Test: No Glow, No-Go
JAN 20, 2022
Nanoparticles Put To the Test: No Glow, No-Go
  Nanoparticles—tiny spheres carrying a biologically-active cargo—have the potential to transform how w ...
Loading Comments...