Purdue Pharma, the maker of the popular painkiller OxyContin, may soon file for bankruptcy in the face of an onslaught of lawsuits. Reuters broke the news Monday morning, citing a source that said the company may try to use bankruptcy protection laws to extricate itself from nearly 2,000 lawsuits.
The suits claim the pharmaceutical company knowingly misled both “doctors and patients” about the dangers of prescription opioids like OxyContin, and hid the addictive nature of the drugs. If Purdue Pharma files for Chapter 11, the lawsuits would be settled by a bankruptcy judge.
“As a privately-held company, it has been Purdue Pharma’s longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy,” wrote a spokesperson for the company in a statement, according to Reuters. “We are, however, committed to ensuring that our business remains strong and sustainable. We have ample liquidity and remain committed to meeting our obligations to the patients who benefit from our medicines, our suppliers, and other business partners.”
The lawsuits are the result of several years of physicians over-prescribing the drugs, resulting in increased opioid addiction rates and associated deaths—often referred to as “the opioid crisis.” Opioids are a class of prescription painkillers made either naturally or synthetically from the poppy plant, and include drugs such as OxyContin, its generic form Oxycodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and hydrocodone, which is also known as Vicodin. Other prescription narcotics in this class are morphine and codeine, and street narcotics with similar effects are opium and heroin.
Approximately two million Americans have opioid disorders, including thousands of members or former members of the armed services. Certain initiatives by the Department of Veteran Affairs are helping to reduce those numbers so military personnel and veterans can manage injuries and chronic pain more effectively.
Patients taking these drugs for an extended period of time often experience a condition known as hyperalgesia, which reduces the impact of the medication and makes some of them even more sensitive to pain. These heightened sensations force many people to take too much medication or turn to illicit drugs for pain management.
“For decades the pharmaceutical industry, including Purdue, misled clinicians into thinking these drugs were safe,” said Stephanie Ferrell, a hospital-based pharmacist in New Orleans. “The pharmaceutical industry really took advantage of doctors and patients, even though they’re the ones who are supposed to be the experts on the drugs they manufacture. The patients are the ones who end up suffering.” The National Institutes of Health indicate ingesting too many opiates can suppress the respiratory system—essentially stopping a person’s ability to breathe. Other medical problems of overuse include cardiac arrest and death.
According to a story from Seeking Alpha, at least 1,600 separate lawsuits against drug makers were filed in Federal court in Ohio. Other pharmaceutical companies such as “Endo International, INSYS Therapeutics, Titan Pharmaceuticals, and Mallinckrodt” all saw their stock prices tumble on Monday after the release of the Reuters report.