The Current Status of Opioid Litigation in America

It took some time, but the opioid crisis eventually gained America’s full attention. In 2017, President Trump declared the crisis to be a national emergency. He and the first lady both attended an opioid summit this April, at which time he vowed that the government would keep fighting the epidemic, noting that the administration has set aside $6 billion to help.

Nevertheless, there are differences of opinion on where we should go from here. Many believe that the legal system must play an important role in holding actors accountable for wrongful behavior which has caused or exacerbated the crisis. In some instances, this includes personal injury recovery for medical malpractice.

In this article, we’ll discuss the depth of the problem and the state of opioid litigation in America.

Current Statistics on the Opioid Crisis

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that, according to statistics revised in January 2019, more than 130 people die every day in the United States from opioid overdose. Citing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), NIDA states that misuse of prescription opioids creates a yearly economic burden in the United States in the amount of $78.5 billion. This number would be much higher if it took into account the effects of illegal opioids. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 80 percent of heroin users first misused prescription opioids. It’s clear that a real health crisis exists.

Legal System Involvement

Throughout the course of American history, there have been those who will place economic rewards above responsibility to society. In such instances, it is the legal system that often plays a crucial role in holding wrongdoers accountable for their behavior. Below are examples of how this has occurred in response to the opioid crisis.

  • Government Civil Litigation – Governmental entities have suffered immense losses as a result of the opioid crisis. Many are now looking for those who created and profited from the crisis to help pay for the consequences. As of February 2019, more than 30 states and almost 1,500 counties and cities had filed suit against those who manufacture and distribute opioids.
  • Criminal Responsibility – In an unusual move, federal prosecutors charged a drug distributor and two executives with crimes just this past April. This criminal prosecution likely causes great concern for many who have been involved in and profited from the epidemic.
  • Medical and Professional Malpractice – Doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and other health care providers in Oregon and elsewhere are well aware of the dangers presented by opioids. These professionals must meet the applicable standard of care at all times, and they can be held liable when their breach of the standard of care causes harm. For example, doctors and pharmacists who knowingly continue to provide too much medication to a patient may ultimately be liable. In one widely reported case, a doctor in St. Louis prescribed a patient more than 37,000 pain pills over approximately five years. The jury awarded $17.6 million against the defendants, which included punitive damages.

Other Examples of Medical Malpractice

Over-prescribing opioids is just one of several forms of medical malpractice that can contribute to the opioid crisis.

Doctors may also prescribe the wrong medication or fail to properly monitor the patient’s performance on a medication after it is prescribed, or even prescribe a highly addictive drug when it is not warranted by the patient’s condition. Nurses may provide a patient with the wrong medication or in the wrong dosage. When these mistakes result in harm to a patient, a medical care provider can be held liable for medical negligence.

Call with Questions

While we are happy to see both government and non-government actors taking steps to stem the opioid epidemic, holding wrongdoers accountable often requires legal action

If you have suffered an opioid addiction which resulted in harm, or have suffered from any form of medical malpractice, you may have questions about your rights and how to proceed. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield would be happy to answer them. Please give us a call today.


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