Sweetwater County Sues Opioid Manufacturers
Sweetwater County has filed a federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors alleging they promoted the use of these prescription drugs such as Oxycontin and fentanyl causing addiction and subsequent social costs.
"The explosion in opioid prescriptions and use caused by Defendants has led to a public health crisis in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, which faces skyrocketing opioid addiction and opioid-related overdoses and deaths as well as devastating social and economic consequences," according to the complaint filed by Rock Springs attorney Charles Barnum and Casper attorney Rick Koehmstedt in U.S. District Court.
Barnum, Koehmstedt and Sweetwater County officials did not return calls for comment.
These lawsuits are similar to more than 1,000 filed elsewhere by states, counties, municipalities and tribes. Many have been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation and are being processed through the U.S. District Court Northern District of Ohio.
It is unknown whether Sweetwater County will transfer the lawsuit to the multidistrict litigation.
The lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages, and is filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Other causes of action include public nuisance, negligence, abnormally dangerous activity, fraud, and deceptive trade practices.
These are the manufacturing defendants:
- Purdue Pharma L.P. -- makes and sells opioids such as OxyContin and Dilaudid. OxyContin is Purdue's best-selling opioid, with annual sales ranging between $2.47 billion and $2.99 billion since 2009.
- Purdue Pharma, Inc.
- Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.
- Johnson & Johnson.
- Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. -- makes and sells the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
- Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., now known as Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
- Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc, now known as Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
- Teva Pharmacueticals USA Inc.
- Cephalon, Inc. -- makes and sells Actiq and Fentora.
- Endo Health Solutions Inc.
- Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. -- develops, markets and sells Opana, Percodan, Percocet and Zydone, as well as generic opioids including oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone and hydrocodone.
- Allergan PLC, formerly known as Actavis PLC, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., now known as Activis, Inc. -- manufactures and sells Kadian and Norco. Allergan includes Watson Laboratories, Actavis Elizabeth LLC, and Teva Ltd.
- Watson Laboratories, Inc.
- Actavis, LLC.
- Actavis Pharma, Inc., formerly known as Watson Pharma, Inc.
- Insys Therapeutics, Inc.
- Mallinckrodt PLC -- makes and sells oxycodone.
- Mallinckrodt, LLC.
The lawsuit also names three defendants that are distributors:
- McKesson Corporation.
- Cardinal Health Inc.
- Amerisourcebergen Drug Corporation.
Sweetwater County's lawsuit is similar in allegations and language to those filed by the State of Wyoming, Carbon County and the Northern Arapahoe Tribe along with hundreds of others nationwide.
They claim the companies began a marketing campaign more than two decades ago that misled doctors and patients into believing that opioids such as oxycodone and oxycontin can be used to treat chronic pain instead of just short-term acute pain or end-of-life pain.
Those social consequences include addicted homeless persons who commit drug and property crimes to feed their addictions, according to the lawsuit.
"For example, tax dollars are required to maintain public safety of places where the addicted homeless attempt to congregate, including city parks, schools and public lands. Tax dollars are required to fight the injections disease brought by the addicted and particularly the addicted homeless."
A Purdue Pharma spokesman did not return an email requesting comment.
However, Purdue Pharma denied the allegations in three similar lawsuits filed by tribes in Washington. A company spokesman told the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton, Wash., in March, "We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge.”