Two Courts Debunk Widely Accepted Opioid Myths
Since 2014, state and local governments have filed thousands of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies they blame for causing the “opioid crisis” by exaggerating the benefits and minimizing the risks of prescription pain medication. The theory underlying these cases is pretty straightforward: Drug manufacturers lied, and people died.
Two recent rulings—one by a California judge, the other by the Oklahoma Supreme Court—show how misleading this widely accepted narrative is. Both decisions recognize that undertreatment of pain is a real problem and that bona fide patients rarely become addicted to prescription opioids, let alone die as a result.
Three California counties, joined by the city of Oakland, started the flood of litigation against opioid manufacturers seven years ago, when they filed a complaint arguing that the companies they sued created a “public nuisance” by encouraging increased use of their products through a false or misleading marketing campaign. The four jurisdictions sought more than $50 billion in damages.
Following a bench trial that began on April 19 and wrapped up at the beginning of last month, Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson concluded that the plaintiffs had failed to prove any of their allegations. In a scathing 42-page ruling issued on November 1, Wilson said the supposedly incriminating statements cited by the plaintiffs were neither false nor misleading.
As Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, noted in a 2016 review of the evidence, “addiction occurs in only a small percentage of persons who are exposed to opioids—even among those with preexisting vulnerabilities.” The California plaintiffs nevertheless argued that it was false or misleading to sa
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