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Springfield hospitals join suit against opioid manufacturers, distributors

(WCAX)
Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 4:41 PM CDT
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A group of 12 Missouri hospitals filed a civil suit in Greene County Circuit Court against manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioid-based drugs.

Lawyers argue between 2006 and 2014, opioid distributors shipped nearly 2.2 billion pills to Missouri, equaling 362 opioid doses for every man, woman and child in the state. By 2017, 71.8 opioid prescriptions were written for every 100 persons, higher than the national average of 58.7 per 100.

Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The lawsuit alleges the retailers, distributors and manufacturers of the drug are largely responsible for this crisis and the associated health care costs resulting from patients with opioid-related health conditions.

The suit details how the drug manufacturers' deceptive marketing messages to hospitals and physicians claimed there was a low risk of developing dependence when prescribing opioids to treat chronic pain, overstating the benefits of opioids and trivializing the risk of long-term use. Distributors and retailers ignored mounting evidence of a crisis, disregarded their duties to maintain effective control of the pills and failed to identify, report and take steps to halt suspicious orders in the pursuit of profit.

"For almost two decades hospitals have experienced financial harm addressing the fallout from the opioid crisis, and they continue to fund treatment for many opioid-addicted patients with little or no reimbursement," said Greg Aleshire, attorney with Aleshire Robb & Rapp, in Springfield. "As the world steps back and stays home, hospitals serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 global pandemic, while continuing to suffer the financial and operational impact of the opioid epidemic. Hospitals need financial relief now more than ever to help ensure resources will be available to care for our communities."

The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug epidemic in American history. Between 1999 and 2014, more than 165,000 Americans died of opioid overdose and the trend continued to accelerate. More than 45,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in a 12-month period ending September 2017.

The Missouri hospitals join more than 650 hospitals across the United States to file state-based lawsuits against the manufacturers, distributors and retailers responsible for the opioid crisis. Learn more about the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic on America's hospitals at https://hospitalopioidcrisis.com/

CoxHealth released this statement to KY3:

"There are a variety of reasons why we elected to join this suit. One ties to drug manufacturers’ deceptive marketing messages to hospitals and physicians, which long claimed there was a low risk of developing dependence when prescribing opioids to treat chronic pain. Information from the companies also overstated the benefits of opioids, and trivialized the risk of long-term use.

As information became clearer regarding the actual risks and implications of long-term opioid use, CoxHealth made a variety of changes to avoid prescribing opioids whenever possible.

However, those shifts do not erase high medical costs for associated treatment for individuals who are addicted to opioids. CoxHealth has long subsidized many of these expenses, leading to a financial burden for the health system.

The goal of participating in this suit is to ultimately secure financial funding from drug manufacturers and distributors to help offset the high associated costs of treating patients with opioid addiction.

At CoxHealth, if there is any settlement, we are committed to dedicating a portion of the proceeds to addiction and mental health resources for patients. Funding would also be used to subsidize other areas of mission-driven care, offset operational costs, and in other ways to help enhance service in the community."