CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Cuyahoga County filed a lawsuit against multiple drug companies Friday, alleging the companies misled consumers, and need to reimburse the county for money spent combating the opioid epidemic.
The suit filed in Cuyahoga County civil court Friday morning, alleges it is about "one thing: corporate greed." More than 20 companies, and individuals are named as defendants. The suit alleges they all put their "desire for profits above the health and well-being of the County of Cuyahoga consumers" and now the county is paying to clean up the situation.
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and Cuyahoga County prosecutor Michael O'Malley held a news conference about the lawsuit at county headquarters.
Budish first announced that in 2016 in Cuyahoga county, more people died of opiate overdoses than homicides, suicides and car crashes combined. He also said that in 2017, about 800 people are expected to die from an opiate overdose.
"We were at a point where something has to be done and this is our first step," said O'Malley. "As an elected official in this county, we have seen the effect of this opiate crisis continue to increase year after year after year, and I think we had all hoped at some point we would see the beginning of a decline, well, that is not happening."
The suit alleges that the named defendants knew that "opioids were too addictive and too debilitating for long-term use for chronic non-cancer pain lasting three months or longer" but through a "sophisticated and highly deceptive and unfair marketing campaign" changed the perception of the drug.
Budish said that the county has spent millions of dollars combating the epidemic.
"This year alone, we have had to bear the burden of increased costs to the Medical Examiner's office, increased costs of supplying drugs like Narcan to save victims of overdose, and additional cost of children in the foster care system because of a parent's death or drug addiction. This is an emergency. There is a direct correlation between the over prescription of opioid pain pills and addiction and subsequent deaths of our mothers, fathers, loved ones," said Budish. "We hope that that sends a message to the manufacturers and distributors, 'don't bring this stuff into Cuyahoga county.'"
The county is seeking real and punitive damages, and an order for the companies to clean up the "public nuisance" the suit alleges the companies created in Cuyahoga county.
Budish's announcement comes just days after President Donald Trump declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announced new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.
"We need to hold the drug manufacturers and distributors accountable whose corporate strategy was to push these opiates into our community for the sake of profit," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O'Malley. "They are drug pushers on a national level."
Cleveland 19 asked if there is any legal precedent for the county's suit. O'Malley referred to similar suits filed by other cities, counties and stated, "I believe most of them are still pending, but I'm quite confident myself and the county executive, we screened individuals, we heard their theories of various cases, and we think we have the right entity and the right group of individuals to represent the county very well."
Attorneys for the county are being paid on a contingency basis, meaning that they won't be paid until, and unless, the county wins its suit.
Some of the manufacturer defendants include: Purdue Pharma LP, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. The distributor defendants include: McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Corp.
Cleveland 19 has reached out to every individual and company named as a defendant in the suit.
One of the distributors, Cardinal Health, responded with the statement below.
The people of Cardinal Health care deeply about the devastation opioid abuse has caused American families and communities and are committed to helping solve this complex national public health crisis. We are industry leaders in implementing state-of-the-art controls to combat the diversion of pain medications from legitimate uses, and have funded community education and prevention programs for a decade. We operate as part of a multi-faceted and highly regulated healthcare system – we do not promote or prescribe prescription medications to members of the public – and believe everyone in that chain, including us, must do their part, which is ultimately why we believe these copycat lawsuits filed against us are misguided, and do nothing to stem the crisis. We will defend ourselves vigorously in court and at the same time continue to work, alongside regulators, manufacturers, doctors, pharmacists and patients, to fight opioid abuse and addiction.
The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, the national trade association representing wholesale distributors including defendants names in the suit, McKesson, Cardinal, and AmeriSource Bergen, released the statement below.
As distributors, we understand the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country. We 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.
Distributors are logistics companies that arrange for the safe and secure storage, transport, and delivery of medicines from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and others based on prescriptions from licensed physicians. We don't make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines, or dispense them to consumers.
Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated.
We are ready to have a serious conversation about solving a complex problem and are eager to work with political leaders and all stakeholders in finding forward-looking solutions. --- John Parker, SVP, Healthcare Distribution Alliance