Suburban Chicago counties sue opioid makers

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Health officials estimate more than 1,900 people in Illinois are expected to die of opioid overdoses this year.

Five collar counties are going after some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies over their marketing of prescription opioid painkillers.

DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake counties have joined forces to target pharmaceutical corporations as the cause of thousands of overdoses and hundreds of deaths.

In the complaints filed in Illinois State Court, the counties are seeking relief including compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars they spend each year to combat drug-related crimes and the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ marketing campaigns.

In addition to monetary damages, the counties are seeking to enjoin the defendants and prohibit them from their “continued unfair and deceptive acts and practices.”

“Opioid abuse has grown at such an alarming rate the past few years that we can no longer sit idly by while community after community and family after family is ravaged by this indiscriminate killer,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said. “It is our sincerest hope that the lawsuits will not only prevent more deaths, but will also begin the healing process and allow DuPage County to recoup a portion of the losses incurred fighting this deadly epidemic.”

Defendants in the lawsuits are: Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma,Inc., The Purdue Frederick Co. Inc., Abbott Laboratories Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., Endo Health Solutions Inc., Dr. Perry Fine, Dr. Scott Fishman and Dr. Lynn Webster.

According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, opioids contributed to nearly 1,200 overdose deaths in Illinois in 2016. IDPH reports that more Illinois residents died from an opioid-related drug overdose (due to heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers) in 2014 than from homicide or motor vehicle accidents. Illinois is one of 14 states that has seen an 8.3 percent increase in overdose deaths.

Apart from the toll on human life, the crisis has financially strained the services the counties provide their residents and employees, the plaintiffs contend. They say human services, social services, court services, law enforcement agencies, the office of the coroner/medical examiner, and health services, including hospital, emergency and ambulatory services, have all been severely impacted by the crisis.

For example, they contend, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ egregious conduct, the counties have paid, and continue to pay, millions of dollars for health care costs stemming from prescription opioid dependency.

The costs include unnecessary and excessive opioid prescriptions, substance abuse treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, and inpatient hospital services, among others, according to the suing counties. The defendants’ conduct, the counties contend, also causes the counties to incur substantial economic, administrative and social costs relating to opioid addiction and abuse, including criminal justice costs, victimization cost, child protective services costs, lost productivity, and education and preventive program costs, among others.

The lawsuits allege the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payers that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was allegedly perpetrated through a civil conspiracy involving a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive (unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications) promotion and marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006, and is ongoing, according to the counties.

Specifically, the complaints detail how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other “education” materials, conducting sales visits to doctors, and supporting a network of professional societies and advocacy groups — all of which were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.

Simmons Hanly Conroy, and Meyers & Flowers, two law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort action, are representing DuPage, Kane, Lake, Will and McHenry counties. Paul Hanly, shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy, and Peter J. Flowers, a founding partner at Meyers & Flowers will be serving as co-counsel.





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