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 January 31, 2018 - Seeking to combat addiction epidemic and rising number of fatal overdoses, Dauphin County Commissioners sue opioid manufacturers

HARRISBURG, PA (January 31, 2018) Dauphin County Commissioners today filed a lawsuit against 11 drug manufacturers and three doctors they say ignored the addictive and debilitating effect of opioids and aggressively marketed the painkillers to make billions in profit.
 
The ongoing cost of the resulting opioid epidemic is measured not only in the millions in increased medical care and rising number of fatal overdoses but in the shattered lives of those struggling with addiction and the toll on their friends and family. The lawsuit is filed in Dauphin County Court.
 
“A cornerstone of medicine is ‘first, do no harm,’ and our lawsuit shows these drug companies turned that on its head and only believed in, ‘first, make a profit,’’’ said Commission Chairman Jeff Haste. “They knew how destructive the drug could be and that over time higher doses are needed to achieve the same level of pain relief, but they ignored all this to make billions at the expense of their patients.’’
 
Overdoses caused 85 deaths in 2016, and that number jumped to 102 for 2017, according to the Dauphin County Coroner. Additionally, from June 2016 to the end of July 2017, Dauphin County spent $19.6 million to help 2,859 people suffering from addiction. That marked an 860 percent increase in treatment dollars and more than 400 percent increase in those needing help from 2012-13.
 
Meanwhile, the drug companies named in the action made $8 billion from opioid sales in 2012, a figure that grew to $9.6 billion by 2015, according to the lawsuit. The cost in lives is steep: nationwide between 2000 to 2014, nearly half a million people died from overdoses. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
 
“Sadly, it’s a story that’s become all too common: people losing their battle to addiction,” said Commissioner Mike Pries. “With the horrendous human toll comes increasing costs to counties, which not only provide drug and alcohol treatment and prevention services but also handle child welfare, corrections and court cases.”
 
Filing the lawsuit on behalf of the county is Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, and Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller, a leading Philadelphia law firm advocating for victims of catastrophic injuries in Pennsylvania.

 

The law firms are pursuing the action on a contingency basis, meaning taxpayers will not be responsible for legal costs and the county will share in any money recovered. All money recovered will go toward paying for drug abuse treatment and prevention programs, the commissioners said.
 
“I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t been touched in some way by the opioid epidemic, either through their own addiction or in trying to help a family member or friend,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “Making treatment readily accessible is the only way we’re going to turn the tide, and we need the drug companies to start helping to pay for that treatment instead of forcing taxpayers alone to foot the bill.’’
 
Because Pennsylvania’s counties are on the forefront of providing treatment and dealing with the criminal justice fallout from the opioid epidemic, the lawsuit is an important step in ensuring counties are at the table to have a say in how money collected from the drug manufacturers is used.
 
“We need to make sure the money from any settlements or verdicts is used to combat the problem started by these drug companies,’’ Haste said. “County human services, courts, prisons, probation and parole departments and numerous other county services are on the front lines of fighting the opioid epidemic, and we need to make sure any money from these lawsuits is directed to where it will do the most good.’’
 
Among the other counties that have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors are Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Carbon, Columbia, Delaware, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Luzerne, Washington, Westmoreland and York.
 
“Dauphin County, like many other counties in the state and across the country, has been deeply and negatively affected by the opioid epidemic that has infiltrated their community,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul J. Hanly, Jr., lead co-counsel for the county in this case.  “The crisis isn’t new. Opioid abuse and addiction continues to cause incredible, long-lasting damage for families across Dauphin County and is straining county resources every day. Together, with county leaders, we will seek justice for the residents of Dauphin County.”
 
The companies named in the lawsuit: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, 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.; Dr. Perry Fine; Dr. Scott Fishman; and Dr. Lynn Webster.
 
Doctors named in the lawsuit: Perry Fine and Lynn Webster, both of Utah, and Scott Fishman of California. All three were, “instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally and in Dauphin County,’’ according to the lawsuit.

 

Municipalities in Connecticut, Louisiana, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Wisconsin. In January 2018, Hanly was appointed co-lead counsel of the Multidistrict Opioid Litigation, to oversee all federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioids. Those cases are being heard in federal court in Ohio.
 
Among the other assertions and allegations in Dauphin County’s lawsuit:
 
·         Defendants knew that controlled studies of the safety and efficacy of opioids were limited to short-term use (i.e., not longer than 30 days) in managed settings (e.g., hospitals) where the risk of addiction and other adverse outcomes was significantly minimized. (Paragraph 9)
 
·         Defendants sought to create a false perception of the safety and efficacy of opioids in the minds of medical professionals and members of the public that would encourage the use of opioids for longer periods of time and to treat a wider range of problems, including such common aches and pains as lower back pain, arthritis, and headaches. (Paragraph 11)
 
·         Defendants, individually and collectively, knowing that long-term opioid use causes addiction, misrepresented the dangers of long-term opioid use to physicians, pharmacists, and patients by engaging in a campaign to minimize the risks of, and to encourage, long-term opioid use. (Paragraph 14)
·         A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimated the national economic impact of prescription opioid overdoses, abuse and dependence to be $78.5 billion dollars annually. The study broke down the distribution of this impact further: (Paragraph 29)
o   Lost Productivity: $42 billion (53.3%)
o   Health Insurance: $26.1 billion (33.3%)
o   Criminal Justice: $7.6 billion (9.7%)
o   Substance Abuse Treatment: $2.8 billion (3.6%)
 
·         … As a direct and foreseeable consequence of Defendants’ egregious conduct, the County paid, and continues to pay, millions of dollars for health care costs that stem from prescription opioid dependency created by Defendants’ deceptive marketing campaign.
 
These costs include unnecessary and excessive opioid prescriptions, substance abuse treatment services, emergency response services, hospital services and other medical costs, among others.
 
Defendants’ conduct also caused the County to incur substantial economic, administrative and social costs relating to opioid addiction and abuse, including costs for police, fire, and EMS personnel; costs for prosecutors, public defenders, courts, the County prison system, and other aspects of the criminal justice system; costs for coroners and the coroner’s office; costs for substance abuse treatment services and other medical care; victimization costs; lost productivity costs; education and prevention program costs; costs for children and youth services, homeless services, and other human services;  and costs of NARCAN for first responders, among others. (Paragraph 30)

Contact: arichards@dauphinc.org
Category: Dauphin County
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