A state judge in Hinds County courthouse in Jackson, Miss. will decide whether Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood — aided by a phalanx of private plaintiffs’ attorneys — can proceed with a suit against opioid manufacturers in which the companies stand accused of promoting the drugs by allegedly systematically understating their health risks and exaggerating their benefits, violating state law.

The potential exists for a mega-case like the one that ultimately brought Big Tobacco to heel. At a minimum, pretrial discovery might force drug companies to do something they have heretofore fiercely resisted: produce their internal records, including any that show discrepancies between what they told doctors, regulators and the public about opioids, and what they knew or suspected privately.

The United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) have discovered that next to marijuana, the nonmedical usage of prescription painkillers is the second most common form of illegal drug use. In 2007, SAMSHA reported that 5.2 million individuals – 21% of people over the age of twelve – used a prescription painkiller for nonmedical purposes. The US DEA believes that estimate to be closer to 7 million individuals.

In 2006, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that about 324,000 emergency room visits involved painkillers.

Brain Chemistry: It’s been suggested that certain individuals are born lacking in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which controls feelings of pleasure. These individuals may turn to opiate narcotics to stimulate the release of dopamine into the body, producing feelings of joy and happiness.

Effects of Opiate Abuse

The long-term effects of opiate abuse will vary tremendously based upon the length of time an individual uses opiates, the type of opiate abused, and the frequency of use. Common effects of opiate abuse include:

  • Liver disease
  • Dehydration
  • Abscesses of the skin
  • Infection of cardiac valves
  • Pneumonia
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cardiac dysrhythmias
  • Increased respiratory infections
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Failed attempts to cut down on the drug use
  • Overdose
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Coma
  • Death