SAN ANTONIO — Bexar County is suing for more than $1 billion in an upcoming opioid case, marking the first wave of Texas trials alleging fraudulent marketing has contributed to the opioid crisis.
Bexar County authorities filed the lawsuit in 2018, accusing drug companies of spending millions to create a “publicity machine” with supposedly unbiased doctors to convince the medical community that opioids are safe and non-addictive. These doctors would suggest the best treatment for addiction was more opioids, according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys believe the $1 billion is a conservative estimate of the cost incurred by the Bexar County taxpayers.
“It’s a big burden on taxpayers now with this issue, destroyed many lives, affected many families regardless of economic income,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff when the lawsuit was filed.
Wolff said lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies accused of contributing to the opioid epidemic are having a societal impact. The trial for the lawsuit is slated to begin October 2020.
“Hospitals and doctors — many of them are being very cautious with what they are prescribing today we already see some of the effect of that,” Wolff said.
Bexar County had the fifth highest overdose rate in Texas in 2015, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over a four year period, beginning in 2011, 664 people died in Bexar County due to opioid overdoses, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The county had the highest number of babies born addicted to opioids in the state.
Between 2006 and 2012, widely considered the apex of the prescription pill crisis, doctors in Bexar County prescribed more than 326 million opioid pills, enough to supply every resident in the county with 11 days worth medication per year, according to Geoff Mulvihill and Riin Ajas of the Associated Press.
“This is not merely a financial crisis,” said TJ Mayes, a chair with the Bexar County Opioid Task Force. “It is also a humanitarian crisis. Judge Wolf mentioned at the height of the opioid epidemic 664 people died as a result of an opioid overdose. There’s no dollar amount I can bring back those lives.”
Attorneys are working with addiction experts to create a mitigation plan to help people suffering from opioid addiction. If Bexar County wins the lawsuit, the $1 billion will go towards drug treatment programs.
We reached out to companies named in the lawsuit Purdue Pharma sent us this statement:
Purdue Pharma vigorously denies the allegations in the lawsuits filed against the Company and will continue to defend itself against these misleading attacks.
“In the lawsuits against Purdue, plaintiffs disregard basic facts about Purdue’s prescription opioid medications:
Purdue’s OxyContin represents less than 2% of total opioid prescriptions and it continues to be approved by FDA as safe and effective for its intended use, prescribed by doctors, and dispensed by pharmacists.
OxyContin is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it is in a class of medicines with the highest level of control by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA);
Only healthcare providers licensed to practice medicine and registered with the DEA are authorized to prescribe controlled substances including opioid analgesics; and
The first information that healthcare providers see when reading the FDA-approved label for OxyContin is a prominent “black box” warning that includes information about the risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose.”
“We believe that no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue, and since 2000, we have pursued more than 60 different initiatives in collaboration with governments and law enforcement agencies on this difficult social issue.”
Johnson Pharmaceuticals, part of Johnson and Johnson is also named in the lawsuit and sent us this statement:
“Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible. The FDA-approved labels for these prescription pain medications provide clear information about their risks and benefits. Additionally, since 2008, our opioid medications have accounted for less than one percent of the U.S. market for this class of medications (including generics). The allegations made against our company are simply not consistent with the facts.”
“Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues, and we are committed to being part of ongoing efforts and doing our part to find ways to address this crisis.”