In February, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office filed a federal lawsuit against the three largest manufacturers and marketers of prescription opioids in the United States: Purdue, Endo, and Janssen.
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.
Revenues for the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these drugs have skyrocketed. Purdue has generated estimated sales of more than $35 billion from opioids since 1996.
Opioid overdoses are the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing fatal car accidents. In Pierce County, opioid use has reached crisis levels. From 2012 to 2016, the number of opioid-related deaths in Pierce County totaled 423.
The lawsuit contends the opioid crisis was created by the practices of pharmaceutical companies in providing false and misleading information to doctors and patients, including being told opioids were not addictive and were a safe way to treat long-term and chronic pain. In 2016, the CDC concluded there was no evidence that opioids were effective at addressing long-term or chronic pain.
“Emerging evidence shows that Purdue and other drug manufacturers engaged in a deceptive marketing campaign that fueled the opiate crisis,” said Prosecutor Lindquist. “Where there is harm to the people, there should be accountability for the corporations.”
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.
The crisis has also dramatically impacted the youth population in Pierce County. From 2006-2014, five to ten percent of tenth graders in Pierce County reported using painkillers to get high.
The complaint alleges the defendants violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the federal RICO statute, and that their conduct constitutes a public nuisance, negligence, gross negligence, and unjust enrichment under Washington law. Pierce County has retained Keller Rohrback as outside counsel on a contingency-fee basis in this case.
For more information, please contact James Lynch at (253) 798-6265, [email protected].