The opioid crisis in the US has been building since the 1990s. Today, opioids have become the primary drugs causing overdose deaths, and the National Safety Council reports that the odds of dying from an opioid overdose are now higher than those of dying in a car crash.
But public awareness of the crisis has grown drastically in the past few years, and however discouraging the statistics, steps are in fact being taken to address the epidemic. Excessive pain medication prescriptions are down, and acts, including the HEAL policy, have been introduced to help curb the crisis and help the thousands of Americans who suffer from opioid addiction.
What Is the US Opioid Crisis?
The opioid crisis refers to the dependence on both synthetic and non-synthetic opioid medication and the corresponding overdose death rate that has reached epidemic proportions throughout the US.
Opioids are a family of medications that have commonly been used to treat pain. While opioids can be suitable for treating pain when prescribed by a doctor, their addictive nature has caused many patients to develop a dependence and continue to use them excessively and dangerously, even when there is no longer a need for them.
How Did It Begin?
We can trace the genesis of the opioid crisis back to the 1990s; but even as late as 1999, only 3 in 100,000 deaths were caused by a dependence on an opioid. However, as doctors and pharmaceutical companies insisted that opioids did not pose a health risk, the prescription of opioids began to rise dramatically.
Correspondingly, the number of opioid-related deaths per year continued to rise, with commonly prescribed opioids such as methadone and both natural and semisynthetic opioids being the biggest culprits.
But prescription opioids are not the only drugs causing the problem; those suffering from opioid addiction develop a tolerance to prescribed treatments and require a stronger drug to satisfy their addiction, and there is evidence that they graduate from using prescription opioids to illegal alternatives including heroin.
How Is It Affecting People?
Opioid addiction can affect anyone, regardless of whether they are prescribed the medication or only know someone who has been addicted. In 2017, 47,600 deaths were connected to an overdose following an opioid addiction. In total, 2 million Americans experience complications following the misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids.
Because of the spread of opioids, drug overdose is currently the principal cause of death for adults aged 50 and under across the United States, with opioids being responsible for half of these cases.
As some opioids, such as heroin, are commonly consumed intravenously, misuse can also put users at risk of HIV/AIDS, along with other issues.
The crisis is taking a toll not only on individuals and families, but also on cities and states as they expend increasingly large amounts of resources to care for patients, regulate opioid use, and find other solutions to stem the tide of the epidemic.
What Is Being Done to Fight It?
To curb the misuse and problems, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides thorough guidelines and regulations regarding the prescription of opioids treatments for chronic pain. While opioid treatment for such pain can be successful and beneficial if controlled, the CDC has encouraged medical professionals to select non-opioid treatments as a primary step, while opioid-based medications should only be used following a careful assessment and with regular evaluations of need.
Naloxone is another method used to fight the opioid crisis. Naloxone is an overdose-reversal drug designed to help reduce the number of deaths caused as a result of opioid addiction, and many states have enacted laws in recent years requiring Naloxone to be available and prescribable.
The US Department of Health & Human Services announced a strategy to further curb the opioid crisis. This included a range of solutions that deliver a more accessible treatment center option, increase awareness and public surveillance to help enhance understanding of the dangers of opioid addiction, and also give support to research on treating pain and addiction.
By increasing focus on new ways of managing pain, government agencies and private healthcare providers alike hope to see a drop in opioid dependence.
Furthermore, opioid attorneys are helping hold manufacturers and distributors financially responsible for wrongful deaths and public health costs, which places pressure on these entities to act responsibly and help end the crisis.
Napoli Shkolnik PLLC is working to combat the epidemic by representing cities, states, and municipalities against manufacturers and distributors. In October, our client Cuyahoga County reached a landmark $260 million settlement in a bellwether trial against four key players responsible for the opioid epidemic. This trial will stand as an example of what kind of settlement can be expected from similar cases. County officials will use the money for treatment plans, care for children whose parents have died from overdoses, and to solve related criminal justice issues.
Paul Napoli, as appointed by Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo, is the Co-Lead Counsel in the continuing New York opioid cost recovery litigation. The next opioid trial is scheduled to begin in March on behalf of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Napoli Shkolnik PLLC will continue to represent those who have been affected against the manufacturers and distributors.
Recent FDA Regulations
In 2020, the FDA plans to announce changes in policy and regulations to further reduce the epidemic. These regulations include:
- Strengthen the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy for transmucosal fentanyl medication
- Issue updated guidance to promote the development of non-opioid pain medication
- Ensure entities involved in managing supply chains track and trace opioid medications
- Mandate short-term packaging for outpatient dispensing of specific medications
There is still much to be done to increase public safety and end the opioid crisis, but it is encouraging to know that steps are being taken to regulate the use of opioids and provide support for those who suffer from addictions to these drugs.