John Russell Indianapolis Business Journal Staff for www.theindianalawyer.com
Nearly a dozen Indiana cities and counties have filed lawsuits in recent days against opioid makers and distributors, claiming the companies have flooded their communities with the addictive painkillers and engaged in deceptive marketing campaigns that helped lead to a growing crisis.
The lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, represent a growing effort to take on the powerful opioid industry. Many of the lawsuits are nearly identical, claiming the manufacturers aggressively pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, and falsely represented to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction.
The complaints also say the companies aggressively advertised to and persuaded doctors to prescribe highly addictive painkillers, and “turned patients into drug addicts for their own corporate profit.”
Plaintiffs include Fort Wayne, Noblesville, Greenwood, Terre Haute, New Castle, Chandler and Atlanta, as well as Harrison County, Vigo County and Jennings County.
More will likely be filed in coming days, said Manuel Herceg, an attorney with Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Indianapolis, which is leading a consortium of about a half-dozen law firms engaged in the effort.
Plaintiffs in many of the latest suits include opioid makers Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Jannsen Pharmaceuticals, as well as distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen. Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma—which produces OxyContin and has no affiliation to Purdue University—is facing dozens of similar lawsuits. The companies have denied any wrongdoing.
When asked why the suits were filed at nearly the same time, Herceg said: “We’ve received information from our clients and filed accordingly.”
He said the suits eventually would be consolidated in a multi-district litigation effort in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, before Judge Dan Polster.
That effort will include lawsuits from other states, including Ohio and Kentucky, he said. He declined to predict how many suits eventually would be filed.
Other law firms outside the consortium have filed similar suits in recent days, include Cohen & Malad LLP, which in November sued opioid makers and distributors on behalf of the city of Indianapolis, blaming them for a “dramatic increase in the use of prescription opioid pain medications” by using deceptive marketing tactics and through their “failure to identify, report, and stop suspicious orders of those medications.”
The city of Kokomo, in its lawsuit, stated that between 2011 and 2015, the number of non-fatal emergency department visits due to opioid overdoses in Howard County increased by more than 61 percent. Between 2015 and 2017, calls for service in Kokomo coded “overdose in progress” increased by 134 percent.
“This incredible harm to not just the victims of opioid addiction, but the communities in which those individuals live, stems directly from the Defendants’ intentional choice to pump opioids into Plaintiff’s Community in violation of state and federal law,” the suit stated.
Pointing a finger at the industry, the lawsuit further stated: “Despite the clear evidence before their eyes—that the number of opioids being sent into communities like City of Kokomo could not be explained or justified by any conceivable medical need, but could only be explained by a flourishing and rapidly expanding black market for opioids — these wholesale distributors continued to push their substances into the community, willingly and knowingly becoming participants in the black market they were fueling.”
The suits also claim that Indiana has been especially hard hit by the opioid epidemic. The state ranks ninth in the country for its opioid prescription rate per capita, and opioid overdose rates have more than doubled in the past three years.
Nationally, dozens of states, cities and counties — including Ohio, Mississippi, Orange County in California, and the Washington cities of Seattle, Everett and Tacoma — have sued the pharmaceutical companies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2015, drug overdoses killed more than 52,000 Americans. Most involved prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin or related illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. People with addictions often switch among the drugs.
Healthcare Distribution Alliance, an industry group representing distributors, has said such lawsuits are misguided. The alliance is a national trade association representing distributors, including McKesson, Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen. It said its members are “deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution — but we aren’t willing to be scapegoats.”