On Dec. 15, at the request of Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, the Pierce County Council authorized the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office to file a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and other major pharmaceutical companies. The proposed lawsuit is based on company conduct that contributed to the opiate epidemic in Pierce County and Washington State.
“Emerging evidence shows that Purdue and other drug manufacturers engaged in a deceptive marketing campaign that fueled the opiate crisis,” said Lindquist. “Where there is harm to the people, there should be accountability for the corporations.”
Pierce County joins the State of Washington, the City of Tacoma, the City of Seattle and the City of Everett, among other government entities across the nation, in pursuing litigation against Purdue, the manufacturer of OxyContin. The council vote authorizing the action came after months of research, due diligence, and Lindquist’s recommendation.
“The opioid crisis has impacted nearly every department in our county,” said Pierce County Council Chair Doug Richardson. “Whether it’s the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management, Public Health or the court system, Pierce County has shouldered a heavy burden in dealing with this crisis.”
All of the lawsuits allege harms to the public that are social, economic, and even fatal. Purdue’s profits from OxyContin and other opiates are estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
“Opioid manufacturers profited from business practices that have done enormous damage to our community,” said Council Member Derek Young.
Between 1997 and 2011, prescriptions and sales of opioids in Washington rose more than 500 percent. In 2015, the number of overdose deaths in Washington exceeded the number of deaths from car accidents and firearms. Homelessness and crime are also associated with opiate addiction.
“This is a health issue and a public safety issue,” Lindquist said.
In March of this year, Purdue asked a federal judge to dismiss the City of Everett’s lawsuit. Purdue argued that the connection between Purdue’s conduct and the alleged harm was too remote. In September, the judge dismissed one of the city’s claims, but allowed the case to proceed. The city amended and refiled the dismissed claim.
The City of Everett alleged that Purdue should be held liable for, “supplying OxyContin to obviously suspicious physicians and pharmacies and enabling the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market, including to drug rings, pill mills and other dealers.”
“We’ve studied the Everett lawsuit, the arguments and the rulings,” said Lindquist. “Our situation has both similarities and differences. We wanted to be sure we had sufficient facts and proper legal grounds before we proceeded. I’m now confident we do.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson also filed a lawsuit late this year. He alleged that Purdue was “embarking on a massive deceptive marketing campaign,” among other allegations.
The City of Tacoma lawsuit, and the anticipated lawsuit from Pierce County, will also focus on Purdue’s marketing campaign. The County will likely ask for both injunctive relief, to change Purdue’s business practices, as well as financial reparations to assist the county in addressing issues associated with opiate addiction, including the burden on the criminal justice system and social services.
Lindquist will deputize attorneys from a private law firm who have expertise in this area. The collaboration with a private firm will have no significant cost to the county, as the lawyers’ fees will be contingent upon winning an award from Purdue and other entities responsible for the crisis.
The Prosecutor’s Office will likely file the lawsuit in the coming weeks.