Opioid Epidemic Reduces American Lifespans

For the first time since the Spanish Flu outbreak in the 1920s, life expectancy in the United States has declined two years in a row, and observers say painkiller addiction is the reason why.

Life expectancy had risen every year since 1993, which was the height of the AIDS epidemic, and is now at 78.6 years in the United States. That’s a 0.1 year decline from the 2015 figure. Over 63,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of those deaths were opioid-related. That figure is three times higher than it was twenty years ago. Fentanyl, a painkiller that’s 100 times stronger than heroin, is one of the leading culprits.

Robert Anderson, mortality statistics chief at the National Center for Health Statistics, said the decline was “shocking.” The decline would have been even steeper if not for improvements in other categories, such as heart disease and cancer, he added.

How We Got Here

Between 1991 and 2011, the number of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. nearly tripled, even though Americans said their short-term pain, from things like trauma injuries and invasive surgeries, was not any worse. As a result, rather than dulling pain, the drugs merely provided a potentially addictive high.

At the same time, pain pill manufacturers began making more powerful drugs, most notably the previously mentioned fentanyl, which first became widely available in the early 2000s. Other painkillers featured a time release mechanism, so the drug stayed in the body longer and the chances of addiction increased.

To market these new pills, drug manufacturers launched a concerted effort to designate pain as the fifth vital sign (the “Take 5” campaign), alongside breathing rate, temperature, heartbeat, and blood pressure. The industry also spent millions of dollars marketing its products directly to prescribers and claimed, without much evidence, that newer opioids were less addictive.

Legal Remedies Available

Families whose lives have been wrecked by opioid or heroin addiction, along with the governments that have spent millions of dollars addressing the crisis, both have a number of legal options.

Drug manufacturers have a right to market their products, but the marketing must be true, not misleading, and supported by scientific evidence. Many drug makers have backed away from prior false claims that their products were safe, and under the 1997 amendments to the Federal Rules of Evidence, such developments are probably admissible in court. Moreover, by definition, opioid pain relievers are dangerous narcotics. As a result, drug manufacturers are arguably strictly liable for the damages that these products cause.

In addition to compensatory damages for economic and non-economic losses, such as medical bills, the cost of creating and maintaining drug treatment facilities, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life, juries often award significant punitive damages in dangerous drug cases. That’s because many of these companies pursue a certain course of action, which in this case is selling as many addictive painkillers as possible, without giving due regard to the product’s potential dangers.

Napoli Shkolnik is also representing numerous counties and cities across the country in their fight against the opioid epidemic. Additionally, Paul Napoli was recently appointed Co-Lead Counsel in the New York Opioid Cost Recovery Litigation.

Reach Out to Experienced Attorneys

The opioid epidemic is no accident, and the drug makers are arguably responsible for this tragic situation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We handle mass tort cases on a nationwide basis.

Image: The Sydney Morning Herald