For years after he got out of the Navy, Joel Bishop took morphine twice a day.
He used four or five Percocet in between those doses.
“I lived around that pill bottle. It’s the only reason I had a watch,” Bishop said. “I couldn’t wait until it was time to open that bottle.”
On Friday, Bishop and two other veterans filed suit in Illinois’ Third Judicial Circuit, which includes Madison and Bond counties, against Purdue Pharma and more than a dozen other pharmaceutical companies, alleging they marketed dangerous painkilling drugs to vets.
Josh Evans, the lawyer who filed the suit, is an Air Force veteran. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I want to fight for these guys because this is a war. A few guys and gals in a war can make a difference, but an army standing up can change the world,” Evans said. “So, I hope that my clients and their bravery coming forward and talking about these issues and seeking a redress in our legal system encourages others to come forward and tell their stories.”
Evans said he talked to more veterans who used opioids about joining the suit, but many didn’t want to come forward for fear of losing their medication and dealing with their pain.
‘If my doctor says it’s all right, it’s all right’
Bishop, 37, of Wood River, served in the U.S. Navy through two deployments to Iraq. He suffered pain in his back and feet. Doctors prescribed oxycodone.
“I didn’t feel like anything was wrong, because my doctor was giving them to me; I wasn’t buying them on the street,” Bishop said. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. So, if my doctor says it’s all right, it’s all right.”
The drug companies specifically marketed to veterans, the suit alleges, because they suffer from chronic pain 40% more than non-veterans.
Purdue Pharma funded webinars related to veteran pain management where opioids were “pushed on veterans’ prescribers as an effective pain management tool,” the complaint stated.
The lawsuit alleged Purdue Pharma and the other drug companies devised a strategy to market to veterans by telling doctors that veterans were “trustworthy” and would not get addicted.
The lawsuit further alleged that companies misrepresented the signs of addiction, calling it “pseudoaddiction.”
The treatment for pseudoaddiction was more opioids, according to the suit.
Bishop lost his house, three cars, two kids and destroyed a lot of personal relationships before he quit taking opioids six months ago.
“It was like my skin was crawling. It was the worst feeling in the world. I felt sick. I would sweat. I was cold. I was throwing up … It was terrible,” Bishop said.
He decided to see a psychologist, who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. The opioids masked that diagnosis, Bishop said.
He’s still in pain, but he’s learning to cope.
“Yeah, I am still in pain, but I was in as much pain then,” Bishop said. “I haven’t been off of them too long, and I’m not saying I am doing all that great, but I am doing better. Life does get better every day that I am off them.”
Follow Beth on Twitter: @bhundsdorfer
Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org