In recent months, more than 25 other states, cities, and counties, including attorneys general in Ohio and Missouri, have filed lawsuits against manufacturers of opioid pain medications, alleging they helped cause the nationwide addiction epidemic.
The latest action was filed November 7 in federal district court by 28 counties in Wisconsin, seeking unspecified damages for millions of dollars in costs for social services, law enforcement and emergency medical care. The plaintiffs allege that the companies’ “nefarious and deceptive” marketing campaigns caused the epidemic, by understating the dangers of long-term opiate use.
“Defendants’ goal was simple: to dramatically increase sales by convincing doctors that it was safe and efficacious to prescribe opioids to treat not only the kind of severe and short-term pain associated with surgery or cancer, but also for a seemingly unlimited array of less severe, longer-term pain, such as back pain and arthritis to name but two examples,” the lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin says.
Drug companies knew their “products were addictive, subject to abuse, and not safe or efficacious for long-term use,” that lawsuit says.
The defendants in the lawsuit are: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Co. Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.; Cephalon Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and physicians Perry Fine, M.D. of Utah, Scott Fishman, M.D. of California and Lynn Webster, M.D., of Utah.
The physicians allegedly were “instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally,” and in Wisconsin, according to the lawsuit.
Purdue Pharma is the maker of OxyContin and Dilaudid; Endo Pharmaceuticals manufactures Percocet and Percodan. Janssen Pharmaceuticals makes a fentanyl skin patch. Cephalon makes a fentanyl lozenge.
“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement, adding that the company is “deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution.”
Endo Health Solutions said in a statement its “top priorities include patient safety and ensuring that patients with chronic pain have access to safe and effective therapeutic options” while preventing opioid abuse. It said it couldn’t comment further on pending litigation. Johnson & Johnson said in a statement it had not yet received the counties’ complaint but that the allegations in similar lawsuits are “legally and factually unfounded.”
“Responsibly used opioid-based pain medicines give doctors and patients important choices to help manage the debilitating effects of chronic pain,” the company’s statement said. “At the same time, we recognize opioid abuse and addiction is a serious public health issue that must be addressed.”
From 2013 to 2015, 1,824 people died from opioid overdoses in Wisconsin, the suit says. One of the plaintiffs, Washington County, had 542 hospitalizations involving opioids last year, according to the lawsuit, and 70 opioid overdose deaths from 2013 to 2016.
The 28 counties filing the suits extend across the state, from Sheboygan and Door counties on the east to Florence and Douglas on the north, and Pierce in western Wisconsin. Each of the separate lawsuits was filed by a legal team from Crueger Dickinson LLC in Whitefish Bay, Wis. and Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC in New York City.
More Wisconsin counties are expected to join the suit in the coming weeks, said co-lead counsel Erin Dickinson of Crueger Dickinson LLC.
“County governments are bearing the brunt of the costs of this crisis. Defendants must be held responsible for the devastating effects their actions have produced on counties across this country.” Dickinson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Our law enforcement, human services and judicial systems are being stressed in the effort to effectively respond to and manage the damage caused by opioid abuse and addiction,” Alan Sleeter, chairman of the Oconto County Health and Human Services Board, said at a news conference announcing the lawsuits.
“There are babies that are born addicted and go into withdrawal,” Sleeter said. He said the lawsuit is “one more tool to help us fight for our community.”
“Communities throughout Wisconsin have been suffering the devastating effects of this opioid epidemic for years and we in Jefferson County believe it is time to take a stand,” said Jim Schroeder, Jefferson County Board chairman. “Families have been destroyed and our hospitals and emergency services overwhelmed because of this opioid epidemic.”