Prosecutor expands lawsuit against big pharma

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In February, Prosecutor Mark Lindquist filed a federal lawsuit against the three largest manufacturers and marketers of prescription opioids in the United States: Purdue, Endo, and Janssen, for their deceptive marketing campaign that fueled the opiate crisis. Patients and doctors were told opioids were not addictive and were a safe way to treat long-term and chronic pain, which the Center for Disease Control has concluded is untrue. 

Now, Lindquist, with authorization from the Pierce County Council, will file an amended complaint to add a new set of defendants – the three largest wholesale distributors of prescription opioids, Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen.

“After reviewing new documents during discovery, evidence demonstrates that these distributors played a key role in deepening the opioid crisis,” said Lindquist. “Wholesale distributors have an affirmative obligation to alert the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) when they receive a suspicious order for opioids. We now have new evidence which strongly suggests these defendants actively avoided alerting the DEA.”

In fact, the evidence shows these distributors promoted even larger sales of pills to their customers who were already buying large amounts of prescription opioids.  There is evidence these distributors conspired with manufacturers to prevent the DEA from learning about the significant amount of “diversion” sales to purchasers who did not have legitimate medical purposes for the opioids. 

Prescription opioids are a class of powerful pain relievers, including oxycodone and hydrocodone. The chemical make-up of these prescription drugs is nearly identical to heroin. The rise of prescription opioids in Pierce County was followed closely by the dramatic rise in heroin use. For many, heroin replaced prescription opioids when they could no longer obtain these prescriptions. Opioid overdoses are the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing fatal car accidents.

“We promised to hold accountable those who created and perpetuated the opioid crisis. If we discover other potential defendants, we will expand our lawsuit further,” Lindquist said.

The Prosecutor’s Office filed the lawsuit in federal court and is asking for injunctive relief to stop the deceptive business practices, and financial relief to assist Pierce County in addressing issues associated with opiate addiction, including the burden on the criminal justice system and social services. 

Pierce County has retained Keller Rohrback as outside counsel on a contingency-fee basis in this case.

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