Painkiller lawsuits are top news stories these days. Scores of NFL players are signing up for the class action lawsuit against the national football league; counties and cities are filing suits against pharmaceutical companies.
Painkillers are now the treatment of choice for many patients, doctors, insurance companies and even sports organizations because they are cheap, easy to use, provide quick relief and allow patients to continue functioning through the pain. Most people tolerate prescription painkillers for short periods quite well, without suffering serious side effects like addiction or physical dependence.
Prescription pain relievers do pose serious problems for patients, physicians and the communities they live in. More Americans now die from overdose of painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined. About 2 million people in the United States are addicted to opioid pain relievers, including OxyContin and hydrocodone. Treatment admission rates associated with opioids skyrocketed 414 percent in just one decade between 1997 and 2007. Overdoses, illnesses, hospitalization and treatment present a tremendous burden on individuals and communities. This issue remained largely ignored until recently, when football players began filing suit against the NFL and municipalities initiated legislation against pharmaceutical makers.
In California, Orange and Santa Clara counties have struggled with overdose deaths, emergency room visits, and rising medical costs associated with prescription painkillers. In a new lawsuit, officials claimed that drug companies made huge profits by deceiving doctors into believing the benefits of these prescription pain relievers outweighed the risks. These officials also maintain the drug companies encouraged patients to request prescription painkillers to treat common ailments, such as headache and back pain.
In a similar lawsuit against five pharmaceutical companies, Chicago officials charged drug makers for marketing opioids for chronic pain management although the companies knew the drugs were not effective for that use and that they carried a high risk for addiction.
The lawsuit against the NFL says the league failed to properly inform players about the possible long-term risks and side effects of taking painkillers. Many players became addicted or continued playing after sustaining serious injuries during the game because of the way the drugs masked the pain. The NFL might say that anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers are a staple of the professional football player’s health regimen.
Painkillers and Finger Pointing
Painkiller use has become a complex issue. In the 1960s, it was easy to spot a drug addict – they lived in dark alleys and wore tattered clothing. It was easy to assign blame too – most developed an addiction after using drugs for recreational purposes. Today’s problems with painkillers and addiction are less clear-cut. Opioids are now the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the United States. This means Americans take more opioid painkillers than antibiotics, vaccines, inhalers or any other medication.
Patients like painkillers because they relieve pain and cause a pleasant sense of euphoria. Doctors prescribe analgesics because patients request them. Insurance companies like pain relievers because they are inexpensive. Pharmaceutical companies enjoy the profits. Everyone wants to enjoy the benefits of painkillers, but nobody likes it when painkillers cause addiction, overdose or further illness. Yet, nobody really wants to accept the blame either.