Several pharmaceutical companies are being sued for developing and distributing habit-forming opioid prescriptions that have perpetuated a rise in the number of residents in Norman and other Oklahoma cities requiring addiction treatment.
In June, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed lawsuits against 13 pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuits claim that these companies — despite how public relations officials and advertisements have acknowledged that the opioid crisis is a public health issue — are complicit in contributing to the number of people in the state who are addicted to prescription opioids.
Plaintiffs are arguing that these companies have knowingly distributed these medications while underplaying their addictive qualities in marketing campaigns directed toward medical professionals and the general public.
One of the major companies involved is Purdue Pharma. A motion to have the case heard at a federal court level was denied due to ‘Grable doctrine,’ Based on the outcome of a 2005 Supreme Court case, Grable doctrine determines jurisdictional discretion when a case involving state-law claims raises a federal dispute. As a result the case will be heard by the District Court of Cleveland County.
Currently, legal representatives of the state have accused lawyers representing Purdue Pharma of allegedly violating court orders regarding whether witnesses will be required to appear at an upcoming deposition. It is uncertain whether any delays will prevent the case from going to court and instead result in a settlement.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, there were more than 750 unintentional drug poisoning deaths in the state during 2016. More than half were due to prescription medication misuse. Prescription drugs were involved in approximately two-thirds of overdose deaths between 2012 and 2016. Of that percentage, 64 percent of prescription drug overdose fatalities involved opioid-based painkillers.
Cleveland County, where Norman is located, was one of the counties that experienced an overdose death rate between 7.0 and 16 percent between from 2012 to 2016.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that although nearly 4 million opioid prescriptions were written by Oklahoma physicians in 2015, prescription opioid overdose deaths have declined between 2014 and 2016.
In order to address the opioid epidemic in the state, government officials passed House Bill 1948 in 2015. The bill require physicians to consult the prescription monitoring program (PMP) before writing opioid-based prescriptions for new patients or those whose last PMP check was more than 180 prior.
While the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment locator lists many addiction treatment providers in nearby Oklahoma City, there are only two located in Norman.
Despite state budget cuts across the board, lawmakers recently passed legislation that affects addiction treatment, including regulations that require counselors in Oklahoma City to possess a master’s degree before working for addiction treatment providers.
In addition, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will soon implement a new policy in Oklahoma to lower the cost of prescription drugs and keep pharmaceutical companies accountable. The companies will negotiate with the state to determine an acceptable cost for certain medications. The state will then reimburse the full price of the medication if it is found to be effective; if not, only a fraction of the price will be paid to a company.
The policy will be implemented by the end of the month and may save the state millions of dollars.