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Deceptive Marketing of Drugs and the Failure to Warn

Doctors, medical organizations, government health authorities, and patients nationwide have dealt with the after effects of opioid drugs. These prescription painkillers are highly addictive, and impact not only thousands of patients but the health care system as well.

Some state and local governments have responded. The city of Chicago and two California counties have filed lawsuits against the drug companies who sell these drugs. These suits contend that manufacturers engaged in deceptive marketing campaigns to boost opioid drug sales and increase their profit margins.

The Opioid Crisis

The "opioid crisis" has become a major health topic. Prescription opioid drugs are strong painkillers that are known to be highly addictive. Doctors began using morphine on a wide scale during the 1800s, and its use spiked during and after the Civil War. Around that time morphine addiction became a recognized health problem. Since then, medical professionals have sparingly used opium-based painkillers.

However, opioid drug prescriptions have recently spiked. Before the 1990s, these painkillers were mostly used for treating patients with severe health problems. Since these patients were often diagnosed with cancer or end-of-life conditions, there was a low risk of addiction and abuse. However, prescribing practices changed. Drug companies began aggressive marketing campaigns designed to promote opioid drugs among doctors and patients. These campaigns succeeded. Since 1990, prescriptions for opioid painkillers have increased ten times over.

The rise in opioid prescriptions has had public health consequences. The misuse and abuse of opioid drugs contributes to a rising number of emergency room visits. Many patients have become addicted and require substance abuse treatment. The death toll has risen as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that opioid drug abuse contributed to 16,651 deaths in 2010 alone. More people die of opioid drug overdoses than die of heroin and cocaine overdoses each year.

State and local governments have borne much of the burden during this crisis. Government agencies pay for emergency room visits and administer substance abuse programs. Government health care also covers millions of people who take prescription drugs. The rise in opioid use impacts these agencies and costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

A Response: Governments Sue the Drug Companies

Some local governments have taken their case to the courtroom. In May 2014, two California counties filed a consumer protection lawsuit against five drug companies. The initial civil complaint contends that Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions, Actavis, and other companies engaged in deceptive marketing practices. They allege that the companies misrepresented the safety of their products in order to boost sales and increase profit margins. Chicago has filed a similar lawsuit in Illinois.

It's worth reviewing the arguments made in these lawsuits. California and the city of Chicago contend that the drug companies overstated the benefits of opioid drugs while understating the risks. They claim that drug companies violated state consumer protection laws against deceptive marketing. This accordingly prevented doctors and patients from making informed health care decisions. Both lawsuits seek a court order preventing the companies from inaccurately advertising their drugs. They also request restitution for the costs imposed on taxpayers.

Potential Impact on Patients and Consumers

These lawsuits could impact patients nationwide. If courts determine that drug companies engaged in deceptive marketing practices, then patients who file product liability lawsuits may have an easier time. Attorneys who work on product liability lawsuits often make similar arguments to those made in California and Chicago.

Product liability law holds manufacturers responsible for patient injuries when those companies fail to warn the public about a drug's risks. It's because of this requirement that drug commercials and advertisements carry a long list of potential side effects. While sometimes tedious, these warnings exist to inform patients and prospective customers. Doctors and patients need reliable information about a drug's risks and benefits in order to make sound medical decisions. Deceptive marketing campaigns or drug warnings that do not provide this information put patients at risk.

Patients who are injured by a dangerous or defective product have rights. A product liability lawsuit can recover compensation from the manufacturer responsible for the product. This can cover medical bills, lost income from time off work, pain and suffering, and other damages related to the injury. The success of the city of Chicago and California suits may make filing product liability lawsuits easier as well.

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