After two decades in which opioid overdoses claimed more than 400,000 lives in the U.S., two universities have launched an online archive to store documents generated by the many lawsuits filed against drug companies for their role in creating the unprecedented societal crisis.
The goal of the Opioid Industry Documents Archive is to provide transparency into the strategies that were pursued by companies to increase sales of the painkillers — which led to countless cases of opioid use disorder, overdoses, and deaths — in order to prevent a similar episode from occurring again.
“All too often, the general public never gets the benefit from seeing and learning from litigation that takes place behind closed doors,” explained Caleb Alexander, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and founding director of its Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, which will help manage the archive.
“This is not just a typical case. The opioid litigation is a matter that has affected generations of Americans. I think especially for those who lost loved ones or developed opioid addiction, it’s vitally important that these documents see the light of day. Understanding the genesis of the epidemic can help to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself,” Alexander added.
The archive will eventually store documents from lawsuits filed in state and federal courts around the U.S. These include emails, memos, presentations, sales reports, budgets, audit reports, Drug Enforcement Administration briefings, meeting agendas and minutes, expert witness reports, and depositions of drug company executives.
The lawsuits – many of which were filed by state, city, county, and tribal governments – alleged that the opioid makers downplayed the addictive risks of their painkillers, while also encouraging overprescribing by physicians. Pharmaceutical wholesalers and retailers, meanwhile, were accused of failing to monitor shipments or overlooking unsafe usage.
Between 1999 to 2018, more than 400,000 people in the U.S. died of an overdose involving opioids, including prescription and illicit opioids, according to federal data. And the crisis cost more than $2.5 trillion between 2015 and 2018, according to the most recent analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
“I believe in the idea that being forewarned is forearmed,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has filed lawsuits against numerous companies. “We’re going to have be vigilant and hold people accountable. Making sure the information is available to journalist and scholars so they can tell the true story makes a big difference.”
The repository will be accessible on a website called Drug Industry Documents, which gathers materials from lawsuits and investigations in order to illustrate how the pharmaceutical industry influences public health. Other archives on the site, which is managed by the University of California, San Francisco, include documents generated by lawsuits over the Vioxx painkiller and the Paxil antidepressant, as well as a U.S. Senate probe into payments made by drug makers to doctors.
The archive currently contains 3,300 documents totaling more than 131,000 pages in six collections generated by opioid litigation. The launch coincides with efforts by the University of California, San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins to house more than 250,000 documents produced by Insys during bankruptcy proceedings following opioid litigation.
It will also house documents pertaining to Purdue Pharma, which marketed the OxyContin painkiller, according to Alexander. A bankruptcy plan filed last week by the company indicated a repository will be created as part of any settlement, although final arrangements have not yet been agreed upon with creditors.