opioid crisis in Georgia

The opioid crisis in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Although the problem varies in each state, every state of the country has been affected by it.

The statistics nationwide concerning opioid abuse shows how catastrophic the problem is. In 2015:

  •      12.5 million people misused prescription opioids.
  •      33,091 people died due to overdosing on opioids.
  •      2 million people had prescription opioid use disorder.
  •      15,281 people died due to overdosing on commonly prescribed opioids.
  •      828,000 people used heroin.
  •      12,989 people died due to overdosing on heroin.
  •      9,580 people died due to overdosing on synthetic opioids.

Moreover, it is not just a recent problem. It was determined that the opioid crisis cost the U.S. a total of $78.5 billion in 2013.

Georgia’s Opioid Problem

Georgia’s situation is not as bad as it is in some states including New Hampshire, Maine, and West Virginia. However, it is bad enough to require the state government to take action.

The Georgia Student Health Survey is a study performed yearly that involves all middle and high school students in the state. It determines how many students are taking prescription opioids. This year’s survey found that 4.5 percent of freshman and 4.5 percent of seniors in Bryan County schools admitted to taking opioids within 30 days of the survey. Moreover, the survey discovered that statewide 1.8 percent of freshman and 2 percent of seniors were using opioids.

As far as Bryan County high schools are concerned, the report shows that 3.8 percent of freshman and 6.1 percent of seniors have used opioids. The study reports that Richmond Hill High School had 4.7 percent of freshmen and 3.9 percent of seniors using opioids.

The results of the survey was used to show the need to create a state grant program to focus on intervention and preventive strategies in four counties of Georgia to try and get a handle on the problem. The four counties involved include Bryan, Richmond (Augusta), Coweta and DeKalb.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities is managing the project, which is funded by federal money totaling about $11.8 million. The funds are used to increase treatment and awareness of the opioid crisis.

Mary Fuller, the project coordinator, has noted that the opioid crisis in Georgia has become so great that it is now common for first responders to carry naloxone, which is used as an antidote to block the effects of opioid use, especially in an overdose.

More statistics show how widespread the problem is in Georgia.

  • From June 2016 to May 2017, prescriptions of opioids to patients exceeded 541 million or about 54 doses for every man, woman, and child in the state.
  • 982 Georgians died due to opioid-related overdoses in 2016, accounting for about 69 percent of drug overdose deaths in the state.

How Did We Get Here?

One of the major reasons for the opioid crisis is that doctors prescribed more during the last 20 years. According to a report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, in 1991, doctors wrote 76 million opioid prescriptions. By 2011, the number had nearly tripled to 219 million.

The drug companies were also major contributors to the opioid crisis. As a result of doctors boosting the number of painkilling prescriptions, the drug companies developed newer products with greater effect. Doctors were told that these new products were safer and more effective than other painkillers. However, these drugs were actually more addictive.

  • Opiate use disorder involves:
  • Strong desire to use opioids.
  • Inability to control or reduce use.
  • Trouble meeting social or work obligations.
  • Facing legal problems due to drug abuse.
  • Spending a lot of time trying to obtain opiates.
  • The need to use larger amounts of painkillers over time.
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing use including depression, stomach upset, insomnia, and muscle pain.

Symptoms of opioid misuse include:

  • Inability to feel pain.
  • Sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching of the skin or reddened skin.
  • Constipation
  • Slurred Speech
  • Confusion or bad judgment

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Craving for opioids
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Salivation
  • Goosebumps
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Shakes
  • Loss of appetite

People who abuse opioids can develop a dependence or addiction to the drug.  Dependence on the drug involves taking opioids for a long period of time and needing higher doses to be effective. It also developing tolerance to the drug and suffering withdrawal symptoms if it is suddenly stopped. Someone can be considered an addict when they exhibit compulsive and self-destructive behavior concerning the need to use the drug for reasons other than pain relief.

Opioid Lawsuits

There have already been a number of successful class-action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies that offer painkillers. Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin, a popular and often prescribed opioid, has settled a class-action suit for $20 million in Canada. The agreed to payment results from a battle that lasted for nearly 10 years and was filed by 2,000 Canadians who became addicted to the drug after their doctors prescribed it.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that Purdue marketed its product to doctors as a more effective way to manage pain. Until the mid-1990s, opioids were used to relieve pain for people who had terminal cancer. Since then doctors have prescribed the drug as a means to manage pain because it did not have to be taken as frequently as other medications, according to court documents filed with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office seeking a patent of OxyContin. Doctors began to prescribe the medication for people with a wide range of pain issues. The drug became the top selling opioid drug in Canada for more than 10 years.

The lawsuit also noted that the deficiencies of OxyContin did not become publicly known until May 2007 when Purdue and three of its executives were ordered to pay $634.5 million to settle a criminal and civil suit against them in the United States for marketing the drug as less addictive than other painkillers.

In 2012 Purdue pulled the drug from the market and claimed that problems were due to abuse of the drug on the part of patients.

On October 18 of this year, a group of 41 states’ attorneys general subpoenaed five pharmaceutical manufacturers for information on how they marketed and sold their prescription opioids and for documents and information concerning the distribution of drugs by three drug distributors. The companies receiving the subpoenas included Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd./Cephalon, Inc. and Allergan. The states’ attorneys general also issued a supplemental investigative subpoena on Purdue Pharma. In addition, Documents were requested from three major pharmaceutical distributors including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund lost eight members who died due to addiction to opioids within the last 11 months. They along with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 98 (IBEW) have also filed an opioid lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that have contributed to the current crisis.

Pennsylvania municipalities responding to the opioid crisis have also become involved in the fight. Bensalem Township is suing several drug companies and their subsidiaries including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, and Endo Pharmaceuticals. Litigations are also proceeding in several states around the country including Oklahoma, Ohio, and Mississippi.

It is obvious that during the last few years opioid use has skyrocketed. It is now understood that the over prescription of these drugs by doctors and their aggressive distribution by pharmaceutical manufacturers have contributed to the current opioid crisis.

If a doctor has prescribed an opioid to a loved one that has died as a result of taking the drug or is now addicted to or dependent on opioids, then you may qualify for participation in a class action lawsuit. We urge you to call us. Our attorneys are well versed in the subject of opioid lawsuits and can provide you with information or guidance through a suit. Please contact us at the Eichholz Law Firm today.