A new study released by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) reports that the number of people with diagnosed opioid addiction continues to climb. According to their data, between 2010 and 2016, the number of BCBS members addicted to legal prescription and illegal opioids climbed 493 percent. In 2010, 1.4 incidents of addiction were reported among every 1,000 members. As of 2016, that number had increased to 8.3 incidences per 1,000.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation published a report that found that Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths, surpassing states with larger populations. Ohio had a total of 2,106 reported overdose-related deaths in 2014, which represented a staggering 7.4 percent of the total number of opioid-related deaths reported nationwide that year. California ranked second and New York third.
Ohio state officials have been working to reduce those numbers in the last couple years. Now, according to several news media reports, the Ohio Attorney General has filed a new lawsuit in the Ross County Court of Common Pleas against five major drug manufacturers, claiming that they helped fuel the epidemic.
Ohio Attorney General Wants Drug Manufacturers to Pay
According to the Complaint, the five drug manufacturers—Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, and Allergan—failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks of their opioid drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The lawsuit is the second of its kind filed by a state. The first was filed by Mississippi earlier this year.
On May 31, 2017, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued a press release concerning the lawsuit. In it, he asserts that the defendant drug companies engaged in fraudulent marketing regarding the risks and benefits of their prescription opioids, which fueled Ohio’s opioid epidemic.
“We believe the evidence will also show that these companies got thousands and thousands of Ohioans—our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our kids—addicted to opioid pain medications, which has all too often led to use of the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids.”
He also asserts that the manufacturers over-promoted the drugs’ benefits to physicians, while downplaying their addictive qualities. Dewine seeks damages for the money the state spent on the opioids, repayment to consumers who paid for unnecessary prescriptions, and an injunction to “stop their continued deceptions and misrepresentations and to abate the harm they have caused.”
Too Many People Going Without Treatment
When asked if doctors played a role in the problem, DeWine told NPR that the responsibility rested with the drug companies, which have spent years convincing doctors that opioids were highly beneficial with low risks: “I mean, there was a concerted effort for an extended number of years to really pound this into the heads of doctors,” he said.
Meanwhile, the BCBS study reveals that few people struggling with opioid addiction receive treatment. In addition, a 2016 Surgeon General’s Report found that only one in 10 people get treatment to manage their addiction.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also reported that since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids, including both prescription types and heroin, has quadrupled. Between 2000 and 2015, half a million Americans have reportedly died from the drugs. This epidemic has prompted the CDC to release new guidelines for doctors prescribing opioids. States are also urged to implement and strengthen strategies to help prevent high-risk prescribing.