Six Michigan counties and three cities filed multiple lawsuits overnight and this morning in U.S. District Court against 25 pharmaceutical companies -- including retail drug stores CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Costco -- for "their role in the record level of opioid drug use, death and cost to local and county government."
"The opioid crisis is the most fatal drug crisis on record in American history," said Attorney Mark BERNSTEIN as he announced the suits this morning in an autopsy room at the Macomb County Medical Examiner's Office. "Over 100 Americans die everyday from opioid overdose. Last year, here in Macomb County, more people lost their lives to opioid or heroin overdose than to gun violence and car accidents combined."
The suit alleges "racketeering, aggressive over-promotion, fraudulent claims regarding the safety of opioids and reckless production and distribution."
Bernstein said the goal of the suit was to get pharmaceutical makers and distributors to change their policies and practices, but also to recover costs incurred by the communities responding to the crisis, including costs for medical care, rehabilitation and treatment, overdoses and deaths, increased law enforcement and public safety personnel, and foster placement for minors of addicted parents.
"In the late '90s, pharmaceutical companies basically told the medical community that opioids weren't addictive, or were minimally addictive. This caused widespread diversion and abuse and reckless distribution, in our opinion, of these highly addictive drugs," Bernstein said. "Since 2000, the number of opioids dispensed has nearly quadrupled. Right here in Macomb County, for every 10,000 residents -- men, women and children in Macomb County -- there were 11,814 opioid prescriptions, an almost 40 percent increase since 2009."
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the purpose of the suits was "not about profit through litigation. It's about how do we stop it through litigation."
Detroit Health Department Director Dr. Joneigh Khaldum said 64,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses last year. In Michigan, the number was 1,600, and Detroit there were 300 deaths.
"I'm the director of the Detroit Health Department, but I'm also an ER doctor and I work in downtown Detroit. Unfortunately, I see too many patients who are suffering from addiction. I see people who are overdosing and I have to go to extreme medical measures just to save their life. We have to get them treatment. We have to hold our drug companies accountable and we have to hold our physicians accountable."
Traverse City Attorney Tim Smith said northern Michigan, on a per capita basis, is one of the hardest hit areas of the state.
"In Roscommon, the data up there is that they are filling two prescriptions per man, woman and child in that county," he said.
The communities involved in the suit are Macomb County, City of Detroit, Genesee County, Saginaw County, Grand Traverse County, Delta County, Chippewa County, City of Lansing, and City of Escanaba.
Among the companies targeted are Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Teva Pharmaceutical, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceutical, Amerisourcesbergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corporation. Similar suits have been filed elsewhere.
A key charge in the suits is that the drug makers and distributors failed to notify the federal government when they received suspiciously large orders of opioids. The suits cite 10 specific instances in which Michigan doctors or their clinics were accused of being "pill mills," prosecuted and convicted.
"The DEA was never alerted by either opioid manufacturers or wholesale distributors of any of the foregoing 'pill mill' conspiracies," the lawsuit states. "Instead -- and despite their awareness of the suspicious nature of the foregoing enterprises -- manufacturers and wholesale distributors continued to supply them with prescription opioids."
Eli Savit, senior legal counsel for the City of Detroit, said the companies had an obligation to report suspiciously large orders.
"This is very clear under the Controlled Substances Act," Savit explained. "If you are registered with the DEA as a provider of Schedule II narcotics, of which opioids are, you must report, you must flag and report any suspicious orders to the DEA. And then in fact you must investigate it and do due diligence before filling that order as the manufacturer, as the wholesaler or as the retailer."
The attorneys explained that the lawsuit does not include any claim in an attempt to recover money for families who have lost a member due to addiction or overdose. Savit said the communities only have standing to recover the costs incurred by the city or county governments.
But he did say any award would be used to improve treatment programs for the addicted.
"Absolutely. What we are hoping for is a recovery that will allow us to meaningfully abate the opioid epidemic and we would anticipate using that money to do precisely that," he said.
John Puskar, spokesperson for the Purdue Pharma, released the following company statement in response: "We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and 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.
"Although our products account for approximately 2 percent of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we've distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense."
CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Costco were included in the suit.
"The retailers in this lawsuit, they had an obligation to report suspicious opioid orders to the DEA and failed to do so, which allowed the opioid epidemic to explode and allowed a lot of these drugs to be diverted to the black market," Savit said.
Spokespersons for Walgreens and Rite Aid declined comment, saying they do not comment on pending litigation.
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Table of Contents from the December 19, 2017 MIRS News Service:
- Nine Communities Sue Drug Makers, Wholesalers, Retailers Over Opioids
- Beer And Wine Wholesalers Fighting `Tesla Like' Tactics Over 2016 Law
- Colbeck Most Conservative In Senate; Hood Most Liberal In 2017
- 'Gang' Label Remains For Insane Clown Posse Juggalos
- Hackel Still Non-Committal About A Gubernatorial Run
- MSF Grants $1M More To Project Over Some Board Members' Objections
- Yob Poll Shows Calley Down 11 To Schuette
- Design Firm Hired To Rebuild State Psychiatric Hospital In Caro
- Tlaib Speaking To 13th District Families About Possible Run
- Steudle All-In On Autonomous Autos