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Jefferson, Berkeley counties sue drug manufacturers, distributors

By LINDA HARRIS

The State Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.  — Jefferson and Berkeley counties are suing drug companies and wholesale drug distributors, blaming them for the opioid epidemic gripping their Eastern Panhandle communities.

The 133-page lawsuits, filed in federal court in Martinsburg, claim the drug industry boosted its bottom line by intentionally misrepresenting the risks of using painkillers to consumers and prescribers.

Names as defendants were drug manufacturers — Purdue Pharmaceutical Products, Purdue Pharma LP, the Purdue Frederick Company Inc., Actavis Pharma Inc., Allergan USA, Allergan Sales LLC, Cephalon Inc., Ortho-McNeil-Jannsen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Johnson & Johnson, TEVA Pharmaceuticals, TEVA Sales & Marketing and Mallinckrodt Enterprises Holdings Inc. — and drug distributors Amerisourcebergen, Cardinal Health, Cardinal Health Pharmacy Services, CVS Indiana, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co., McKesson, Rite Aid of Maryland, Walmart Stores East and Walgreens.

“It was (the defendants’) marketing and sales — not any medical breakthrough, that rationalized prescribing opioids for chronic pain and opened the floodgates of opioid use and abuse,” the suits contend. “The results have been catastrophic.”

The suits allege the companies worked together to convince the health care community pain treatment was being under-treated and should be a higher priority, and marketed them as “safe, effective and appropriate for even long-term use for routine pain conditions.” The counties claim the manufacturing defendants misrepresented the risk of addiction to prescribers and consumers, and said their marketing materials “failed to portray the risk of abuse or addiction” to painkillers. Some makers marketed products for non-cancer pain that had been approved solely to treat cancer pain, the suit claimed.

“…Misrepresentations about opioid abuse and addiction risk were particularly dangerous because they were aimed at general practitioners or family doctors who treat many chronic conditions, but lack the time and expertise to closely manage patients on opioids by reviewing urine screens, counting pills, or conducting detailed interviews to identify other signs or risks of addiction,” the suit alleged. “Defendants have made a concerted effort to reach these practitioners through continuing medical education programs, office visits and literature specifically aimed at them, and most opioids are prescribed by primary care physicians.”

Jefferson and Berkeley leaders allege in their complaints costs associated with addressing and fixing the opioid epidemic far exceed their budgets, so they want to hold the manufacturers and distributors “financially responsible for the economic costs of eliminating the hazards” to the public health and safety.

The suits, which charge the drug makers and distributors with public nuisance, neglect, fraud, unjust enrichment and conspiracy, with a RICOH (Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations) allegation, seek unspecified damages to cover all costs associated with the opioid epidemic, including treating the addicts themselves as well as children born with opioid-related medical conditions, costs for police and emergency medical personnel response and the costs associated with caring of children of addicts.

The counties are represented by Stephen G. Skinner, Andrew C. Skinner, Laura C. Davis and Macon Bryan Epps Gray of Skinner Law in Charles Town.

The lawsuits, filed Nov. 21, were assigned to U.S. District Judge Gina Groh.

Staff writer Linda Harris can be reached at 304-374-0403 or email [email protected]

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