The American Opioid Crisis: Drug CEO Indicted
In a recent development (April 2019), former Rochester Drug Co-Operative CEO Laurence Doud III was indicted on two counts of conspiracy; if convicted, Doud will face a minimum mandatory of 10 years in U.S. Prison, according to U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Berman went on to state, “This prosecution is the first of its kind. Executives of a pharmaceutical distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking – trafficking the same drugs that are fueling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging this country.”
From 2012 to 2016, Doud ordered his employees to purposefully avoid red-flagged sales of his company’s powerful opioid medications. During that time, oxycodone sales (a drug similar in strength to heroin) rose 800%, while fentanyl sales (a drug stronger than heroin) climbed by a staggering 2000%. Rochester Drug Co-Operative’s internal compliance office flagged 8,300 orders as suspicious during 2012-2016, but only 4 of those were reported to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Doud and other executives of Rochester Drug Co-Operative turned a blind-eye towards pharmacy customers that were providing Rochester’s opioid medications to civilians for non-medical uses. This behavior resulted in the development of a national opioid drug addiction and culminated in the accidental overdoses of thousands of Americans. Rochester Drug has agreed to pay the federal government $20 million to settle civil and criminal claims related to the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Opioid Overdose Statistics in America
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2017 and possibly more in 2018 (data not available for 2018 as of 4/24/2019). This number is staggering and is higher than deaths from gun violence, car crashes, or H.I.V. at their respective peaks. The number of overdose deaths from fentanyl (a prescription opioid stronger than heroin) and other similar drugs has risen from 3,000 to 28,000 a year since 2013, with deaths from fentanyl rising by more than 45% in 2017 alone. Many of these deaths have occurred due to the over-prescription of pharmaceutical painkillers, encouraged by major opioid drug manufacturers and their lobbyists. Doctors were often encouraged to prescribe these medications for pain that did not match the severity of the condition; practitioners and politicians also received large sums of money from drug companies – like Rochester – to avoid regulatory measures that would have limited the sale of their prescription opioids.
Data and anecdotal evidence prove that many of these accidental overdoses occur due to legally-prescribed opioid medication. According to the CDC, “past misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for starting heroin use, especially among people who became dependent upon or abused prescription opioids in the past year. This indicates that widespread opioid exposure and increasing rates of opioid addiction have played a major role in the growth of heroin use”.
The logic is simple: once the prescription runs out, Americans turn to the streets for their opioid fix. According to the CDC, more than 130 people in the country die every day from overdosing on opiates; over 218,000 people have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids from 1999 to 2017.
The opioid epidemic has reached national proportions, which has spurred an initiative from the White House.
New Orleans Opioid Statistics
According to NOLA, New Orleans is experiencing a dramatic increase in the amount of overdose-related deaths associated with fentanyl; 168 opioid-related overdose deaths were recorded in 2018, with 166 in 2017 and 2016 respectively. During this three-year period, deaths associated with fentanyl doubled in relation to accidental overdose deaths. The opioid epidemic claims life every day throughout the United States: New Orleans is no exception. Fentanyl was responsible for nearly 30,000 deaths in 2017 nationwide, which now makes fentanyl the leading cause of all opioid overdose deaths in the country. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that Louisiana experienced a 12.4% increase in accidental drug-related deaths from 2016 to 2017 and experienced a statistically-significant increase in the amount of opioid-overdose and overdose-related deaths.
Louisiana Opioid Overdose Statistics
According to Drugabuse.gov, 2017 saw 415 opioid-overdose deaths in the state of Louisiana, which is 9.3 deaths per 100,000 persons (the national average being 14.6 deaths). A cause of these deaths may be the fact that there are 89.5 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 persons in the state of Louisiana (the national average being 58.7 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons). This ranks Louisiana in the top-5 most opioid-prescribed states in the country. National initiatives have been put in place to dramatically reduce the amount of unnecessary opioid prescriptions in an attempt to curb the number of accidental overdoses related to prescription pain medication.
White House to Prioritize Opioid Abuse
In February of this year, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy outlined its first National Drug Control Strategy. The new policy aims to curb opioid abuse and addiction, as well as significantly reduce the number of overdose deaths related to opioids over a 5-year period. Here are the key points of action that were proposed to reduce collateral damage caused by the opioid crisis:
- Reduce national opioid prescription fills by a third
- Improve access to evidence-based addiction treatment
- Reduce the availability of illicit drugs within the U.S.
- Commission drug take-back initiatives and federally-sponsored drug disposal sites
- Target criminal organizations based on the lethality of the drugs they traffic
- Additional research on the implementation of evidence-based guidelines for the dosages and duration of prescription opioid treatment for injuries and post-surgical pain management
- Increased drug education and overdose education in younger populations
- Build on Centers for Disease Control guidelines and safe prescribing practices
- Work with the private sector to increase hiring opportunities for individuals in addiction recovery
These are all steps in the right direction, but for many families that have experienced the loss of a loved one due to an opioid overdose, this initiative seems a bit too late.
Attorneys for New Orleans Opioid Prescription Lawsuits
If you or a loved one has been hurt by the opioid crisis, our hearts go out to you. Thousands of Americans are going through a similar pain: the extent of the damage is unprecedented, despite new efforts to control this growing problem. The King Firm has represented many clients in opioid cases in New Orleans. We seek damages based on the willful negligence and malpractice of major drug manufacturers and their constituents, as well as medical malpractice (over-prescribing and unnecessary prescribing of opioid pain medication).
Have you been affected by the opioid crisis? Ring the King at (504) 909-5464 or visit our contact page.