OxyContin Abuse: Stopping the Dealers Helps; Suing the Drugmaker Does Not

One of the biggest challenges with the regulation of prescription drugs is how to prevent the abuse of addictive ones. OxyContin, a powerful painkiller is probably the best known example. There are two ways to reduce the abuse of OxyContin: Punish the inventor and manufacturer of this valuable medicine; or go after those to take advantage of addicts who need help.

HSAAlthough OxyContin is widely prescribed by physicians and valued by patients who need powerful pain relief, trial lawyers decided that the medicine, not the addiction, was the problem. Years ago, the decided they could make some money by suing the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. Back in 2008, Heartland Institute’s Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly reported on the cost of this effort:

If anyone doubts tort claims are a burden on American drugmakers, consider the fees for Purdue Pharma L.P.’s defense of 1,400 lawsuits in 32 states, alleging that OxyContin, its prescription painkiller, is addictive.

Some 40 law firms were retained to defend Purdue, including 322 partners, 849 associates, and 1,023 paralegals, according to Purdue’s insurer, Steadfast Insurance Co., part of Zurich Insurance Co. of Switzerland, which contested the $400 million claim. The firms billed the company for more than 1.2 million hours of work, Steadfast alleges. The Wall Street Journal reports the claim was settled for $200 million.

Needless to say, this cost was a deadweight loss to medical innovation and did not help one single drug addict. Under Governor Rick Scott, Florida took a different approach: Go after “pill mills” that exploited addicts’ vulnerability. New laws allowed state authorities to shut down these pill mills. The result? A 23 percent reduction in deaths from drug overdoses in the following two years, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And no legitimate patients, physicians, or drugmakers were harmed by this solution!

Comments (13)

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  1. Maureen Kielian says:

    In as much as the numbers are better, Florida has a long way to go. FL mortality rates are still higher than many other states, and are unacceptable. I would sincerely like to discuss this with you – and give you the TOTAL story as to why it was Florida, and why Florida will continue to be a leading state in this “physician” prescribed drug epidemic.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    I recall reading about how OxyContin was a slow-release formulation. But when crushed it would release all it’s active ingredients. Lawyers who claim Purdue could have done more ignore the fact that criminal can exhibit ingenuity. When there is money to be made, the criminal element will figure out a way, whether through chemical process or physical process.

    The better method is to do like Florida and put the pill pushers out of business. Anyone who claims to be a pain specialist and has addicts lined up outside their office door with cash in hand is not providing a thorough medical evaluation.

  3. SPM says:

    Finally, some common sense is finally being displayed by going after the right people. Trying to punish the drug companies only hampers innovation and raises the prices patients must pay. In this respect, the trial lawyers here have the same effect as government overregulation. The product these companies are making is perfectly legal – what the pill mills are doing is not.

    • Thomas says:

      Exactly, it makes very little sense to punish the drug companies who are manufacturing the drug of a legitimate reason. Going after the illegal dealers is how to cut of the source of the addiction.

  4. Freedom Lover says:

    Just about any product can be abused. For example, video games and even the Internet itself can become addicting. Is anyone seriously thinking of suing the video game makers (or Al Gore)? Of course not! It real goal ought to be to reduce the number of people abusing such drugs.

    And Florida clearly seems to be on the right direction.

  5. Frank says:

    lawyers…no wonder drug costs are so high

  6. Flyover Country American says:

    The problem is actually not actually with the trial lawyers. Rather, it is with the legislators who allow such lawsuits to take place. I’m personally in favor of the Texas idea of “loser pays” – this keeps out these frivolous lawsuits and discourages such wrong-headed costly behavior.

  7. James M. says:

    Suing the drug companies are just another example of non-sense measures to stop an unintended consequence. If people want to stop addiction, see how the abusers are getting their fix.

  8. Maureen Kielian says:

    This is a PHYSICIAN created epidemic. Until the physicians step up to the plate, this will continue. This epidemic should be reclassified as an “epic failure” of self regulation.

  9. Big Truck Joe says:

    All the govt has to do is have Cardinal and McKesson report over utilizing pharmacies. Then have state Board of Pharmacy investigate those pharmacies and the over prescribing physicians and prosecute them both as needed. Many states force pharmacies to self report their controlled substance RXs so patients can’t Dr/Pharmacy shop. It’s a Very easy solution to a deadly problem but our bureacratic govt on both state and federal level move glacially slow. Only until the small problem reaches epidemic proportions with many deaths does any body do anything. It’s sad really.