Category Archives: Opoids

Sue the Drug Companies

 

In a news conference Thursday at Harborview Medical Center, Ferguson and Holmes introduced their lawsuits. Ferguson said Purdue had conducted an “uncontrolled experiment” by infusing communities across the nation with misleading marketing about opioids. Such marketing continued, according to his complaint, despite a 2007 court order in a prior lawsuit brought by Washington and 25 other states over the same issue.

 

The order prohibited Purdue from understating risks of abuse and addiction, and also required the company to take action when it became aware of overprescribing “pill mills.” And yet, Fergson’s lawsuit claims, Purdue  looked the other way when confronted with red flags.

“They ignored what was happening … for their bottom line,” Ferguson said, “and that’s not right.”

Holmes said Seattle’s lawsuit would seek to “recover what’s been lost” because of the opioid epidemic. The suit refers to defendants as the makers of brand names like OxyContin and Percocet as well as generics such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

He said the city spends millions each year for first responders who deal with overdoses, social workers who help treat people with addiction, and park employees who pick up needles instead of doing other work.

Holmes also linked the epidemic to the city’s homelessness crisis. He referenced a 2016 city assessment that concluded a main cause of someone losing their home, second only to job loss, was drug addiction. “Unlike earthquakes and hurricanes, this disaster is human-made,” Holmes said.

Purdue issued a statement Thursday in response to the lawsuits, saying it was seeking motions to dismiss similar suits in other states.

“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge,” the statement said. “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”
Earlier this month, Tacoma sued three opioid makers, and on Tuesday a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by Everett against Purdue could proceed. These municipalities hope to recoup costs for responding to drug addiction, including money spent on emergencies and social services.
My opinion? Kudos to WA Attorney General Bob Ferguson and City Attorney Pete Holmes for having the courage to file these lawsuits. More power to them. I hope they recover a huge amount of damages from these companies and make positive change happen.
As a criminal defense attorney, I’ve seen an increase of otherwise upstanding and law-abiding citizens commit crimes because of their drug addictions. The trend is disturbing. It begins with people suffering from physical injuries or mental sicknesses. They take pain killers prescribed from a doctor. Eventually, the person gets addicted to the pain killers, loses their medical insurance and turns to street drugs like heroin or methamphetamine to continue supporting their drug habit.
Sure, it’s easy to label people as drug abusers who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. However, it’s harder to call people drug abusers when the drug is sold as “medicine” which is (over)prescribed from a doctor. Many addicts – again, good people, mind you – end up homeless. Indeed, recent data shows that opiate use has increased in homeless populations.
Finally, our government is acknowledging these trends. Washington State is not the only state suing drug companies like Purdue. Oklahoma, Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, and New Hampshire are also suing. Delaware and many others are considering it.
When OxyContin came out, it was promoted to healthcare practitioners as a “wonder-drug.” The initial 1995 literature and in-service training about this new med in the hospitals and clinics back then was that it was better than morphine, because it was more powerful, less addictive, and lasted longer (sustained release).
The drug maker was aggressive in hiring doctors and nurses to promote this drug. It was successful and number of prescriptions soared. The sales pitch was OxyContin relieved the patient’s pain better and with lower risk of the addictive side effect. After all, who wouldn’t want to help their patients by giving them the best possible treatment? Purdue spent $200 million in 2001 for marketing. In 2002, it made $1.5 billion in sales.
What many people found out later was this drug was highly addictive as they saw high rates of addiction and overdoses. This caught the attention of the Department of Justice. In 2007, Purdue – the maker of OxyContin – paid out over $600 million in civil and three of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges for failing to brand the drug’s addiction risks. 

It’s time to prevent drug companies from poisoning our communities.

 

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges related to drug addiction. It’s important to have a caring, competent and experienced criminal defense attorney who fights for your constitutional rights, supports your defenses and understands the story behind the charges. Call today.

City of Everett Sues OxyContin Manufacturer

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Timely article by Diana Hefley of the Everett Herald reports that lawyers for Everett are expected in federal court Monday to defend the merits of a lawsuit filed earlier this year against the makers of the pain medication OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma, the drug’s maker, is asking U.S. District CourtJudge Ricardo Martinez to toss the lawsuit before it ever goes to trial.

According to Hefley’s article, the City of Everett is blaming Purdue for ignoring the diversion of its product, a prescription opioid, to the black market. The lawsuit alleges the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company’s irresponsible business practices helped set in motion what some officials now call an opioid epidemic in Snohomish County, marked by a spike in overdoses, deaths and crime.

The lawsuit claims Purdue knew OxyContin was being funneled to “pill mills” and drug traffickers, including some who set up shop in Everett. Heroin use in Snohomish County and nationwide has skyrocketed in recent years. Addicts often cite prescription painkillers as the source of their introduction to opioids.

Hefly reports that Everett’s lawsuit doesn’t name a dollar amount. Instead, it claims the city has spent and will need to continue to spend significant tax dollars addressing addiction in the community.

Purdue filed a motion to dismiss the case.The company’s lawyers wrote that the city’s allegations are based largely on a false theory that Purdue did nothing to alert law enforcement to the illegal diversion.

Two criminal prosecutions into trafficking rings show that “law enforcement was, at the time, already aware of, and investigating, the criminal conduct of physicians, pharmacies and gang members at issue,” Purdue’s attorney, Thomas Adams, wrote in court papers. Apparently, the city lacks any standing to hold Purdue responsible for Everett’s costs associated with responding to addiction and crime, the defendants argue.

“While we are deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication, this lawsuit paints a completely flawed and inaccurate portrayal of events that led to the crisis in Everett,” the company wrote on its website.

Hefley reports that Purdue was sued a decade ago in Washington. Several states alleged the company had engaged in deceptive marketing practices. Purdue agreed to pay the states $19.5 million as part of a consent judgment. Washington received more than $700,000. As part of the judgment, Purdue agreed to implement diversion detection programs.

However, the City of Everett claims Purdue ignored its obligations. The city pointed to the criminal prosecution of Jevon Lawson, a California transplant and aspiring rap artist, living in Snohomish County, who peddled large amounts of OxyContin. The Daily Herald wrote about Lawson’s indictment in 2011. Everett has defended its lawsuit in a 31-page response.

Its lawyers cited multiple cases — one involving a gun maker and other companies that sell toxic chemicals — to support the contention that Everett has a legal right to hold the manufacturer of a product responsible for harm done to the community.

Everett isn’t the only city taking on the pharmaceutical giant. Last week, the City of Tacoma filed a federal lawsuit against Purdue, along with co-defendant pharmaceutical companies Endo and Janssen. The lawsuit claims the opioid manufacturers made misleading statements about the risks of their products to doctors and patients for the past 20 years.

My opinion? A large amount of my clients charged with DUI, drug crimes, assaults, property crimes and identity theft are, in fact, suffering from drug addictions to opiods. Recent reports and crime data also reflects an uptick in opiod-related crimes. Although we must take accountability for our actions, it violates justice to assume that drug addicts are totally responsible for their actions when prescription “medicine” drives them to abuse drugs and exhibit criminal behavior. Good luck to the City of Everett. And excellent reporting from reporter Diana Hefley, by the way.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal allegations that you allegedly committed while under the influence of prescribed opioids. the defense of Diminished Capacity may apply. Under this defense, diminished capacity means that although the accused was not insane, due to emotional distress, physical condition, drug addiction or other factors he/she could not fully comprehend the nature of the criminal act he/she is accused of committing.

Racial Bias in Media Coverage of the Opioid Crisis vs. Crack Epidemics

Excellent, informative article by Michael Shaw of in the Columbia Journalism Review discusses the clear double standard in the visual framing of the opioid crisis in comparison to the crack cocaine crisis of the 1980’s.

Shaw claims that media coverage of the opioid epidemic—which largely affects suburban and rural whites—portrays it as an outside threat and focuses on treatment and recovery, while stories of heroin in the 1970s, crack-cocaine in the 1980s, and other drug problems that impact urban people of color today have focused on the drug user’s morality.

Photos of the opioid crisis depict well-lit spaces, stress domesticity, and emphasize close-knit communities. In contrast, pictures of urban drug problems have depicted nighttime scenes on seedy streets or portrayed individuals interacting with the police, courts, or jails—often using starker black and white photography. In sum, Shaw argues, “Elected officials, the criminal justice system, and the American media have adopted a ‘kinder and gentler’ tone around the opioid crisis.”

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“A sub-theme of opioid crisis coverage: Many stories showcase children who have been saved by loving grandparents.” Photo from The New York Times, 2016.

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Drug stories about black families in cities present a “narrative of broken homes, addicted babies, mothers depicted as unfit, the engagement of state agencies, and children routinely placed into foster care.” Photo from The Washington Post, 1989.

The racial bias is inescapable. A drug crisis that is largely affecting suburban and rural whites is being treated with a drastically different attitude and approach in words and imagery than those used to characterize heroin use in the 1970s, crack cocaine in the late 1980s, and the drug problem plaguing America’s people of color and urban poor today.

Shaw claims that elected officials, the criminal justice system, and the American media have adopted a “kinder and gentler” tone around the opioid crisis. The attitude and phrasing of a recent New York Times article—titled: “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs”—is both an example and an illustration. As is Time’s just-published photo story “A caring lens on the opioid crisis.” The visual language is just as illuminating. The opioid crisis has been framed as a threat from outside, with drug users facing an “illness or a “disease” rather than a personal moral shortcoming.

 

“You can see in this photo how demonstrators cast addicts who have died from drugs as victims, and in the inset photo, literally as an angel,” says Shaw. “In another photograph, you can see how the same group, FedUp!, has co-opted the quilt as a protest symbol reminiscent of the AIDS crisis.”

Shaw also argues that the largely white drug “epidemic” we’re facing now bears little resemblance to the scenes of squalor, sociopathy, and criminality depicted in this 33-photo Getty package shot in the Bronx and published in June. And photos from the urban “war on drugs” don’t look much different today than they did 30 years ago.

A US Marshal, far left, keeps his pistol trained on suspects as other marshals raid a crackhouse. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite)

 The photo above by Scott Applewhite, also shot in the Bronx, appeared in 1989. It was published to illustrate an eight-week federal anti-drug initiative characterized by armed police raids on inner city crack houses. Suffice it to say police in general have taken a different approach to white opioid drug users (more on that later).

Over the years, photographers have produced many landmark photo stories and bodies of work about drug addiction. The subjects and the settings have been uniformly harsh, the subjects primarily indigent and wayward, and the environs largely decrepit. Those stories include Larry Clark’s “Tulsa,” shot in the mid-1960s and published in 1971; Jessica Dimmock’s “The Ninth Floor,” shot in the Flatiron District of Manhattan and published in 2007; Michel Du Cille’s Pulitzer Prize winning work in 1988 documenting crack addiction in Miami.

Another important photo story in the canon of addiction is Eugene Richards’s “Cocaine True Cocaine Blue.” The project was shot primarily in New York and Philadelphia from 1988 to 1992 and published in 1994. The Instagram post above captures the visual tone and sensibility of that historical investigation. Notice the difference in tone between the historical work and a opioid story in June in The New Yorker shot by Richards in one West Virginia county.

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This tweet depicts four of six Richards images that illustrated the story. In the top left photo, the girl playing in the yard lives with her grandmother. She lost her father to a heroin overdose. The top right photo shows people running a project that helps place addicts in rehab. The middle photo shows a mother, a recovering addict, showing off her newborn. And the last photo is a doctor who offers free public classes in the use of Narcan, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

“What are the larger themes of photo coverage of the opioid crisis, centered on rural and suburban white America, and where do they contrast with coverage of drugs in cities?” asks Shaw. “Photos are almost always shot in color rather than the starker black and white. We typically see daytime or well-lit indoor photos, as opposed to night action on seedy streets or dark alleys.” Shaw further emphasizes that there is minimal engagement with courts, jail, or the police. And there is a stress on domesticity. The photos often are shot at a home, the spaces mostly tidy or pulled together. Bedroom portraits are common.

Opioid stories typically discuss family, extended family, and community.

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This image in the tweet above appeared in The New York Times “gentler drug war” story mentioned above. It’s a photo of Courtney Griffin, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014. The picture in the center show Courtney closely flanked by her sister and her mother. Emphasizing love and closeness, as well as nostalgia and irony, the photo exemplifies how the opioid imagery stays away from pain, despair, isolation, and, of course, relationship problems.

Victims are often depicted in a sympathetic light, with an emphasis on family bonds and survivor grief. A sub-theme of opioid crisis coverage: Many stories showcase children who have been saved by loving grandparents.

In the photo accompanying a Times story, notice the child safe in her bedroom, the letters on the wall spelling out her name, reinforcing identity and continuity. This pattern is a dramatic contrast to the narrative of broken homes, addicted babies, mothers depicted as unfit, the engagement of state agencies, and children routinely placed into foster care that is so characteristic of drug stories focused on black families in cities.

 This photo by Jahi Chikwendiu appeared in a Washington Post article highlighting a recovery house in Bowie, Maryland. Opioid stories consistently stress close-knit towns and support communities.This is a reunion picnic with residents, graduates, family members, and supporters. Of course, the bonding and intimacy in these photos obscure the alienation and the emotional isolation that go hand in hand with addiction.
“The issue of responsibility is largely absent until the theme of recovery comes into play,” says Shaw. At that point, users and addicts are often shown exercising remarkable will and winning the battlewith the disease. Photos stress dignity, help-seeking, coping skills, and self-reliance in the face of poverty and other challenges.

Paul Wright shows a picture of himself in the hospital after a near fatal overdose in 2015, Thursday, June 15, 2017, at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Consider this AP photo of a young man showing a picture of himself after a near-fatal overdose in 2015. It’s like it can’t be the same person, the Nike “Just Do It” accentuating a sense of agency over addiction.

This photo was featured in a major article on the opioid crisis published this month by The New York Times Magazine. Faith, love, and patriotism are themes that often lace photos of the opioid crisis.

 

In this photo, we see a look of conviction on the man’s face and an American flag in the background. This formerly homeless man started a wildly popular Facebook group after his friend died of heroin and is now a sought after drug counselor. What’s more American than bringing nationalism, patriotism, and a sense of can-do to a problem otherwise riddled with shame?

When you do see photos of actual drug use, the images are typically clinical and objective, as opposed to desperate and dingy. After all the crafted photojournalism like the images you see above, it’s jarring to see these user pictures more in the style of stock photography.

 

This photo by John Moore is part of a story about New London, Connecticut, which is suffering an unprecedented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. You’ll notice that the user wears a crucifix, a symbol of faith and a visual buffer with the drug use. Unlike other drug scourges, where photos of users using were common and showed faces, many opioid portraits hide the users’ faces. We hardly ever see anguish, craving, or the high, the rush, or the stupor. The subjects look as if they are doing a routine task, like brushing their teeth.

Compare this to a frame from a story about New York City in May 2015 on the rise of synthetic marijuana, or K2, in New York City.

 

The above photo by Spencer Platt shows a black male drug user unceremoniously splayed out on an East Harlem sidewalk.

“Of course, there are exceptions,” says Shaw.

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 This tweet captures several photos from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that the public found widely disturbing. Administration of heroin in most opioid stories is visualized in a casual way. In the unusual instance that depiction is blatantly graphic or inordinately casual though, a much stronger impact has been elicited. In this case, a couple is photographed shooting up at home, the woman six months pregnant. Beyond the act of administration, however, the rest of the imagery still conforms to many of the domestic norms described above. The February 6, 2017 photo was made in the kitchen, as the couple apparently prepared a meal. The place looks otherwise spotless; both wear clean clothes, and the dishes on the far counter seem to be washed. In the accompanying images by photojournalist David Carson, the drug use fits a larger routine. It might be a horror, but it’s a particularly antiseptic and contained one.

In light of campaign politics and now the debate over healthcare, geography has been almost as prominent a theme in the opioid crisis as demographics. A great deal of the towns are down-and-out, suffering from poverty and a loss of industry. In many cases, however, the photography softens the blow.

“The visual narrative around the opioid crisis has largely sidestepped criminality,” says Shaw. In fact, many opioid stories depict police as social advocates fighting for the community, as exemplified by the July New York Times Magazine cover story. In some cases, they are even a lifeline for users thanks to first responders who carry the drug Naloxone for reversing an overdose.

 

Contrast this August 2015 arrest photo from East Harlem, the charges unspecified, (shot in this case by Spencer Platt for Getty Images), with the NYPD Instagram post below, from May.

As a form of public service announcement, the two officers promote their use of Naloxone spray accompanied by an account of how they “saved a man from a potentially fatal overdose” just the week before. In fact, the visual stories hardly address the dealers and distributors of opioids at all.

“I’m not sure what the race or ethnicity was of the person the NYPD rescued, but a thorough news image search reveals that most articles about Narcan or Naloxone either feature white drugs users or addicts, photos of white people who are being resuscitated (such as in this slideshow), or else they feature trainings or simulations with white volunteers and, almost exclusively, white mannequins,” says Shaw. “There is a clear double standard in the visual framing of the opioid crisis.

Shaw points out that the gentler tone presents a marked departure from historical drug coverage, and the bias in the depiction of the problem as it plagues urban people of color feels “baked in.” Shaw further states that what is even more concerning is the prospect for closing this perceptual gap. Besides racial disparity in journalism, the dog-whistle politics of President Trump is encouraging divisiveness and driving a deeper wedge. Still worse, the GOP leadership is patronizing addicts and states with proportionally larger populations of afflicted rural white populations with the promise of increased prevention and treatment funding as part of its argument for repealing Obamacare.

My opinion? Excellent way to bring truth to the surface. Thank you, Mr. Shaw, for shining light in the darkness.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

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