Pharma faces lawsuits while Kirkland mom watches son suffer from heroin addiction
Both the Washington state attorney general and Seattle city attorney have filed separate lawsuits over the opioid crisis.
The state’s suit targets Purdue Pharma for what Attorney General Bob Ferguson calls a deceptive marketing campaign for OxyContin, including making false claims about its effectiveness to treat chronic pain and downplaying the risk of addiction.
Seattle’s lawsuit also targets Purdue, along with Tevo, Janssen, Endo and Allergan pharmaceuticals for deceptive marketing campaigns. The lawsuits seek to hold the companies accountable for fueling the opioid epidemic for the sake of billions in profits.
One Kirkland family knows the story firsthand.
“Shame on you! You knew that this was happening and you continued to make it readily available and you did nothing to educate the doctors about the side effects,” Rose Dennis said. “You need to be punished for this, you need to take responsibility and do what’s right because too many people are becoming addicted and too many people are dying. It’s very shameful that they knew this and did not address it.”
Kirkland family faces opioid addiction
Dennis, a Kirkland mother, can testify to the damage of prescription painkillers. In the late 1990s, her then 12-year-old son, Matthew, was diagnosed with leukemia.
“So he was admitted to the hospital for nine months of chemotherapy to hopefully put an end to his cancer, which fortunately it did,” Dennis said. “But it was never shared with us during this process that he would be put on pain medication and that the pain medication could become addictive.”
She says he was getting an opioid drip on top of an OxyContin pill at least once a day.
Dennis says the doctors sent Matthew home without weaning him off the pain medication. They just cut him off cold.
Within six months of getting out of the hospital, now 13 years old, she says Matthew was skipping school, hanging with a bad crowd, and stealing from his parents to buy drugs — including OxyContin.
They reached out to doctors at the time about the drug use and what they could do, but Dennis says they weren’t helpful. So Matthew went to various counselors and treatment centers to no avail. Eventually, Matthew turned to heroin, which is now his drug of choice.
He went through treatment 14 times over 15 years and has relapsed every time. He’s lived with his parents off and on over the years, but Dennis says they’ve had to make him leave multiple times because he kept stealing from them.
That led to Matthew living in Seattle’s infamous Jungle and other homeless camps.
Now, at 31 years old, Matthew is still a heroin addict.
“I’ve finally learned not to be hopeful because of the way this disease works, and I know how difficult it is,” Dennis said. “Our hope was always that he would go into treatment and come home healed. But it’s a chronic disease that continues to come back and come back. We’re just hopeful every day that he can figure this out and ask for the help that may be out there. Get clean and live a happy, healthy life.”
The last time they made Matthew move out was last Christmas.
He now stays with a friend in low-income housing, but he still calls his mom and dad when he needs rent money. Dennis says they give it to him. It’s a small amount, but she admits she doesn’t know if he actually uses the money for rent or if it goes to drugs.
She knows some might say that’s enabling, but it’s a personal choice they make as parents.
Matthew tells his parents he’s actively looking for work and wants to get better. Dennis says they hope that happens, but at this point, he’s going to have to find a way to do that on his own.
The state and city hope their lawsuits will force Purdue to give up profits it made from OxyContin, and that money can be used to pay for more resources to deal with the opioid crisis, including more treatment centers.
Dennis says she hopes that happens. She hopes they will be similar to treatment centers in Florida and California that are in-patient only, and rather than just using other opioids like methadone to treat addiction, focus on healing the body through Yoga and other activities. She says Matthew had his best success when he went to a treatment facility like that in Florida, which worked until he returned to Seattle.