In 2007, the company that makes the opiate painkiller OxyContin pleaded guilty to federal felony charges that it misled physicians, regulators and the public about the drug’s addictive qualities and the dangers it posed.
OxyContin isn’t the only painkiller that caused problems, and manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP isn’t the only company that pushed painkillers. The question is whether the companies can be held for responsible for the opiate-addiction epidemic that is sweeping Long Island and the nation. One answer could be lawsuits, much like the landmark suits more than three decades ago against major tobacco companies.
Suffolk County has filed suit in State Supreme Court, charging that pharmaceutical companies knowingly and deceptively promoted dangerous opiates. The county argues that because it administers Medicaid, purchases health insurance for its employees and enforces criminal laws, the industry’s deceptions are costing it money.
Suffolk is not the first municipality to try such a strategy. So have West Virginia, Chicago and several California counties. The suits could lead to payouts that can help us fight this battle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 165,000 people nationwide have died from prescription painkiller overdoses since 2000, while millions more have become addicted to opiates, including heroin. Suffolk leads the state in opiate addiction deaths, and Nassau County isn’t far behind.
A big part of the problem is overly aggressive marketing of painkillers that downplayed studies showing how dangerous the drugs are. The drugmakers now will have to address the consequences. — The editorial board