A group of 15 Arkansas hospitals has joined the growing number of hospitals suing manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of opioids this week, blaming them for the opioid crisis and accusing them of negligence, fraud, and conspiracy.
Among the more than 40 companies and individuals charged in the civil suit are Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson. The hospitals seek to argue before the Washington County Circuit Court that the accused caused them significant financial and operational harm fighting a crisis they caused over the past 20 years.
“The manufacturers’ deceptive marketing techniques and the active evasion of effective controls over the distribution of opioids by retailers and distributors have caused this ongoing crisis,” Thomas Thrash, an attorney with Thrash Law Firm P.A., said. “Other than the patients who have experienced devastating and often lethal consequences, hospitals were the most direct victims of this conspiracy. Hospitals continue to provide desperately needed care, much of which is uncompensated, to effectively treat opioid-addicted patients and have saved countless lives.”
Arkansas currently ranks eighth in the United States for its opioid use rate, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The suit links the rise of the opioid crisis with the time period the defendants pumped prescription opioids into the state: between 2000 and 2016. In that time, the drug overdose rate in Arkansas rose from 5.4 per 100,000 people to 14 per 100,000. Over the same period, the hospitals claim the defendants shifted how and when opioids were prescribed and used by overstating their benefits and trivializing the risk of long-term use.
Faced with a legal obligation to treat opioid patients whether they can pay or not, only about 20 percent of opioid-related condition hospital stays covered by insurers, according to the journal Health Affairs. And the cost of hospitalization for opioid-dependent patients runs around eight times higher than those without, according to the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy.
“For more than 20 years, virtually every hospital in the United States has provided and continues to provide some amount of totally uncompensated patient care as a direct result of the opioid crisis,” Don Barrett, additional counsel for plaintiffs both in Arkansas and in state-based cases across the country, said. “This is not a sustainable trend. America’s hospitals can lead us out of the man-made health care disaster created by the defendants, but hospitals must receive new resources to help address two decades of financial loss.”