The next twelve months might redefine the way the U.S. responds to the opioid epidemic that claims more than 40,000 lives each year, reports NPR. The nation’s biggest drug makers and distributors face a wave of civil lawsuits that could total tens of billions of dollars in damages. Thousands of state, local and tribal governments are demanding that companies like Perdue Pharma, Wal-Mart, and Rite-Aid compensate them for the costs of responding to the crisis. They’re also pushing firms to reveal far more internal documents, detailing what they knew about the risks of prescription pain medications. “Our next battle is to get the documents … made available to the public instead of everything being filed under confidentiality agreements so we can get the facts out,” said Joe Rice, an attorney representing local governments suing the drug industry.
Some internal information could be explosive, changing the way the opioid crisis is viewed. In the 1990s, there was pressure in the healthcare industry to treat pain more aggressively. Purdue Pharma created the opioid Oxycontin, marketing the drug aggressively to doctors as a safe medication that provided long-term relief. “In fact, the rate of addiction amongst pain patients who are treated by doctors is much less than one percent,” claimed a company ad. Local and state governments claim that drug makers, suppliers, and pharmacies made billions of dollars flooding the U.S. with prescription pain pills. Critics say firms misled the public and physicians about the dangers. Public officials hope for an outcome similar to the massive tobacco settlement of the 1990s. Cigarette makers have paid $100 billion to compensate people for high rates of illness and public health costs tied to smoking. Local and state officials say they desperately need that kind of cash to solve the drug crisis.