Fighting the opioid epidemic
Is there anyone in West Virginia who hasn’t experienced the effects of our state’s opioid epidemic?
The lives ruined and deaths from addiction have devastated every community in every county. Even so, when many understandably may feel a sense of hopelessness, I believe there is reason for increasing hope.
We are beginning to make real progress in this fight and feel confident the tide of the battle is turning.
Our most important news is opioid prescriptions have decreased significantly. In fact, we have seen a 51-percent decline in prescriptions for opioids since I took office in 2013.
Part of that reduction is due to our aggressive enforcement, our best practices initiative and our work with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, where we helped – through litigation – convince the DEA to rewrite the national drug quota system to better account for diversion and suspicious orders.
On the enforcement front, our office recently secured a record-breaking $37 million settlement with opioid distributor McKesson. That amount stands as the largest of its kind by any state in the nation.
That money will do incredibly good things and, most importantly, save lives. However, it is just one settlement in a broader effort.
Since January 2016, our office has secured more than $84 million in settlements with 13 opioid distributors — all combined, the largest pharmaceutical settlements of any kind in state history.
Those achievements, combined with our robust efforts to bring greater awareness of the dangers posed by opioid painkillers, illustrate real success.
Still yet, our work is far from finished.
Now we have introduced a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, maker of the most popular opioid, OxyContin, and its former chief executive, Richard Sackler.
Our complaint alleges the defendants repeatedly made false and deceptive claims that OxyContin was safe and suitable for a wide range of pain patients.
Specifically, our lawsuit alleges Purdue claimed OxyContin posed a low risk of addiction. It said symptoms of addiction weren’t evidence of addiction at all but, rather, “pseudoaddiction,” which simply meant, according to Purdue, the patient needed more opioids.
Our lawsuit alleges the company told prescribers long-term opioid use actually improved patients’ quality of life and ability to function, and that opioids were suitable for vulnerable groups such as elderly patients and veterans.
Our suit further contends this widespread deception helped ruin lives throughout West Virginia.
If we win this fight, it will increase the $84 million our office has won in countering the opioid epidemic. That money will help law enforcement stop the illegal importation, trafficking and diversion of these highly addictive prescription drugs, along with deadlier opioids like heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.
It will also finance treatment programs to get people better in the head and the heart, as well as education programs designed to help our children never use opioids in the first place.
In other words, our aggressive enforcement and the resulting achievements will lead to less addiction and thus fewer tragic, untimely and senseless deaths.
The war on opioids is the challenge of our time. Eradicating opioid abuse and senseless death requires broad cooperation and a holistic approach that attacks the root causes and does so from a supply, demand and educational perspective.
We must create a situation where actors in the pharmaceutical supply channel have more incentive to be responsible and to not push opioids on vulnerable patients, but instead to manage pain in a way that is both humane and safe.
Through our relentless efforts, I’m confident our state can find hope and reach her full potential.
Patrick Morrisey is the attorney general of West Virginia.