Washington County files lawsuit against drug companies
Washington County joined a phalanx of local officials from opioid-ravaged communities who are demanding to recoup the costs of fighting that epidemic from major drug companies.
The 104-page complaint, filed Monday in county court, alleges major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors engaged in misleading promotional campaigns that fueled the epidemic of opioid abuse.
The complaint alleges the defendants knew of the addictive qualities of their prescription pain medication, but continued to push the drugs onto patients long after they had left the hospital, where it was better controlled and managed.
County taxpayers have had to shoulder the burden of costs related to the opioid epidemic, according to the suit.
“The county had 27.6 drug-related arrests per 100,000 residents in 2006,” a number that exploded 1,430 percent by 2014, putting “financial strain on every aspect of the county criminal justice system,” according to the suit.
The complaint, signed by attorney Bob Peirce Jr., claims the county spends millions of dollars each year fighting the epidemic, including $2.7 million by the county drug and alcohol commission to combat abuse in the 2013-14 fiscal year alone.
In 2015, Washington County’s rate of 35.05 fatal drug overdoses per 100,000 people placed it among the top 10 in the state, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Between that agency’s numbers and figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, the lawsuit projects a 575 percent increase in total deaths from overdoses between 1999 and 2015. It also points to increases in drug-related crime.
In November, county commissioners voted to enter into an agreement with two law firms, Marc J. Bern and Partners, LLC, and Robert Peirce and Associates, PC, to represent the county to recover taxpayers’ costs associated with the opioid crisis for a 25 percent contingent fee if the county recovers money.
The suit alleges deceptive practices, fraud, unjust enrichment, negligence, negligent misrepresentation and public nuisance. Companies named as defendants include pharmaceutical makers Purdue Pharma; Teva Pharmaceuticals; Cephalon Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Allergan PLC, formerly known as Actavis and Watson Laboratories; McKesson Corp.; Cardinal Health Inc.; and AmerisourceBergen Corp.
It also names Drs. Russell Portenoy of New York City, Perry Fine and Lynn Webster, both of Salt Lake City, and Scott Fishman of Sacramento, Calif., who the lawsuit said were sponsored by the drug companies as promoters of opiates to treat chronic pain while “presenting the appearance of unbiased and reliable medical research.”
“There is no scientific evidence supporting the safety or efficacy of opioids for long-term use,” the suit claims. “Substantial evidence exists that opioid drugs are ineffective to treat chronic pain and actually worsen patients’ health….
“Like the tobacco companies that engaged in an industrywide effort to misrepresent the safety and risks of smoking, (the drug companies) worked with each other and with the industry-funded and directed front groups to carry out deceptive marketing.”
The county requests damages to compensate for expenditures related to the opioid epidemic; triple damages, costs and attorneys’ fees; plus punitive damages, interest and costs.
A court date was not immediately scheduled.
The commissioners of Beaver and Greene counties have filed similar suits in their counties.