Hospitals in Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia are suing companies like Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and McKesson, a drug distributor, hoping to recoup the heavy cost of treating the opioid crisis.
“The expense of treating overdose and opioid-addicted patients has skyrocketed, straining the resources of hospitals throughout our state,” said Lee Bond, chief executive officer of Singing River Health System in Mississippi, which is also suing.
These lawsuits are separate from those filed by thousands of American municipalities against many of the same companies.
Hospitals see the worst of the opioid crisis firsthand. People who overdose, or require treatment for serious illness like endocarditis, pneumonia and hepatitis, are often unable to pay for treatment.
According to court filings cited by NPR, hospitals estimate that the cost of treating such patients amounts to an average of $107,000 per person. In just one year, providing treatment for opioid-related sickness has cost U.S. hospitals over $15 billion, according to 2012 statistics.
“I can’t pay a thing. I don’t have a dime. So they do absorb all that cost,” said Traci Grimes, a woman from Nashville who was treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (which is not involved in any lawsuit) for near-fatal endocarditis, hepatitis A and C, and pneumonia.
Hospital Lawsuits Could Open “New Can Of Worms”
Health experts noted that hospitals may be reluctant to sue in order to protect sensitive information such as how they determine their prices for care, or their relationships with drug companies. This may garner “some unflattering attention” for some hospitals, a health analyst explained to NPR. It could potentially open “a whole new can of worms,” making it a safer choice to sit out on litigation.
However, the downside of sitting out is that hospitals are not guaranteed to receive any of the settlement money won by municipalities, experts noted.
Ohio Governor John Kasich and West Virginia University President Gordon Gee want more hospitals to join as plaintiffs.
“Hospitals are directly bearing the brunt of this crisis,” it says on the website for their organization, Citizens for Effective Opioid Treatment. “U.S. hospitals provide billions of dollars annually in reimbursed care directly related to the opioid crisis.”