Beaver County suing opioid painkiller firms, doctors

Beaver County, one of the regions hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, has joined the fight against surging drug prescriptions with two other Pennsylvania counties, and many more state and local governments nationwide, by suing 23 companies and people associated with the prescription painkillers.

“The drug companies and the distributors who we are suing knew that these drugs were addictive and they kept pumping them into the mainstream of these small towns and these counties,” said Robert Peirce, the Downtown attorney representing Beaver County.

With just over 170,000 residents, Beaver County had 102 fatal overdoses last year, according to the Pennsylvania Opioid Overdose Reduction Technical Assistance Center.

The complaint in Beaver County Common Pleas Court sites the quadrupling of opioid prescribing in the early 2000s, the billions in profits from Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin alone, the 2 million Americans dependent on prescription narcotics, and some 500,000 fatal overdoses nationally since 2000. It says that Beaver County spends millions annually on emergency responses, police overtime, increased incarceration and treatment, including for people who started with prescription narcotics and moved on to heroin and fentanyl.

The suit is seeking money for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and the county’s legal costs, and accuses the drug companies of fraud, deceptive acts, unjust enrichment, negligence, misrepresentation and public nuisance.

Robert Peirce & Associates is working with the New York firm of Marc J. Bern and Partners, and the lawsuit closely mirrors those filed in Lackawanna and Delaware counties. Peirce said Beaver County won’t pay any fee up front, but if there’s a recovery, the lawyers will get 25 percent.

Beaver County’s lawsuit is one in a growing flotilla of cases brought against painkiller manufacturers and distributors by local and state governments. At least six states have sued firms over their opioid marketing practices, and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro has joined 40 of his colleagues in an investigation of most of the companies named in the Beaver County lawsuit. In other states, the drug firms have argued that because they got approval for their actions from the federal Food and Drug Administration, lower governments are preempted from challenging them.

Peirce said that he will also be meeting with Fayette, Washington, Lawrence and Greene counties about filing similar cases this year.

The defendants are Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Actavis, Watson Pharmaceuticals, McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, subsidiaries of some of those firms, and five allied physicians.

Purdue Pharma denied the accusations in the lawsuit, adding in a statement that it is “deeply troubled by the opioid crisis” and “dedicated to being part of the solution.” The company wrote that it must preserve patient access to medication “while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge” through measures like distributing abuse-deterrent painkillers and sharing prescribing guidelines.

Peirce said local governments are pursuing this because the federal government has been compromised by the pharmaceutical industry, citing reporting Sunday by 60 Minutes and the Washington Post. “They can buy the feds, maybe, but they can’t buy the local communities,” he said.

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Original article: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette