As drug rehabilitation facilities in Florida and across the country fight to save lives that have been imperiled by the Opioid epidemic, many school districts across the country are filing suit in order to receive damages from Purdue Pharma before the company is dissolved in a historically large bankruptcy proceeding in an Ohio courtroom. Purdue Pharma created and marketed Oxycontin, a strong opiate medication, which is often used for people just after major surgery to fight acute pain. Purdue Pharma, however, marketed it for all types of patients and claimed that the drug was less addictive than other painkillers. That is a fiction, invented to make the owners and shareholders of Purdue Pharma rich. It worked. They made billions, while countless addictive and dangerously strong Oxycontin prescriptions flooded the streets of America. Recently, Netflix released a series called, “The Pharmacist.” It tells the story of one small-town pharmacist who attempted to resist the urging of Purdue Pharma representatives, who falsely claimed that Oxycontin was safe and less addictive. Every day, it seems, he saw people filling prescriptions which could cause an overdose and cause unknowing patients to become dependent and addicted to the medication very quickly. Now that Purdue Pharma is answering for some of these crimes, organizations have had to decide whether the damage done to them by Oxycontin warrants legal action.
Chicago schools, the third-largest school district in the United States, already filed suit against Purdue Pharma. Other large school districts in Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, and New Mexico have already filed claims, and we can expect that many more will join them. The sad part about this story is that Purdue Pharma hurt and killed so many people that it is simply impossible for anyone victim to recoup a reasonable amount from the now-defunct pharmaceutical company. Why would a school district be owed money due to the opiate crisis? It is actually a remarkably simple and sad answer. Purdue Pharma, by lying about the addictive nature of Oxycontin, got thousands of people hooked on the drug, and many of those people were mothers who gave birth to children who needed special education, many times provided by the public schools. Chicago is seeking 8.6 billion dollars, according to Bloomberg, for “providing special education and related services to children who were exposed to opioids before birth.” Miami-Dade County Schools, the fourth largest school district in the country, is also among the new plaintiffs. We have also already seen other organizations connected to the Florida drug rehab system added to the list of those filing suit against Purdue Pharma. Hospitals and other large health care providers were among the first organizations to identify the harm that Purdue Pharma had caused, and rightly seek damages for that harm. George Harvey, a writer at the Penobscot Bay Pilot, reported this story earlier in the week, and noted that, “The only investment required by school districts, the memo notes, is limited personnel time to work with lawyers and experts gathering data and information on the opioid epidemic’s impact on the schools.” With little risk to individual school districts and so much harm caused by Purdue Pharma, it seems inevitable that many more school districts will be following suit and joining the litigation. I work for a drug rehabilitation center in Panama City, Florida, and all I can do is hope that all the people who are still being affected by the opioid crisis right now have treatment options for themselves or their loved ones.
By Tim Cannon