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County sues opioid manufacturers alleging ‘false marketing campaign’

St. Charles County has joined other state counties in suing pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid drugs and seeking compensation for expenses the county has had and will continue to have in dealing with opioid abuse.

The suit notes that the case arises from “the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history – the misuse, abuse and over-prescription of opioids.” The county brought the action against the defendants “to prevent future harm and to redress past wrongs.”

The  281-page lawsuit, filed Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, asserts two sets of claims against pharmaceutical manufacturers of prescription opioid drugs.  It claims the manufacturers “engaged in a massive false marketing campaign to drastically expand the market for such drugs  and their own marketing share.” It also makes claims “against entities in the supply chain that reaped enormous financial rewards for refusing to monitor and restrict the improper distribution of those drugs.”

More than 30 defendants are named in the suit including Purdue Pharma LP., The Purdue Frederick Co,, Inc., Edo Heath Solutions, Edo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc., Allergan PLC, Johnson & Johnson, Activis LLC, Mallinckrodt PLC, Cardinal Health, Inc., CVS Health Corporation, the Kroger Co., RiteAid of Maryland, Inc., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Walmart Inc., H.D. Smith and Miami-Luken, Inc.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann acknowledged the suit in a statement on Aug. 20.

“There has been both a human and financial cost to this epidemic,” Ehlmann said. “I think just about every family in our county has been affected by this epidemic or knows a family who has been.”

Besides the human cost, Ehlmann said county taxpayers have experienced costs and losses directly related to the actions of those drug companies.

“The opioid crisis has reshaped the daily reality in our county in numerous ways, putting a greater demand on law enforcement, health services, corrections and the courts. County government also has expended dollars on community education programs and programs to treat those with opioid-related addiction.”

He added that the suit seeks relief that includes “compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars it spends each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresented the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.”

The county’s lawsuit touches on the history of prescription opioid drugs over the last 18 to 20 years. St. Charles was the first county in the St. Louis region to train its police, sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers to administer Naloxone [Narcan]. It is seeking to recover those costs.

According to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, St. Charles County had 301 deaths due to opioid overdoses from 2013-2017. Missouri is one of the 20 worst states for drug overdose deaths.

The county’s suit alleges that the crisis was precipitated by the defendants through a massive marketing campaign “premised on false and incomplete information” that “shifted how opioids were prescribed by the medical community and used by patients.” According to the suit, the campaign asserted falsely that the risk of addiction was low when opioids were used to treat chronic pain. Many overdoses from non-prescription opioids also are related to prescription pills with users turning to heroin, the suit notes.

The suit also alleges that opioid abuse is “a public health crisis of epidemic proportions in St. Charles County.”

“As a practical and financial matter, the County has been saddled with an enormous economic burden,” the suit states. “Nearly every department in the County is affected by the opioid crisis caused by the defendants in some manner. Whatever the precise cost, there is no doubt that as a direct result of defendants’ aggressive marketing scheme and distribution of prescription opioids, the county has suffered significant and ongoing harms – harms that will continue well into the future. Each day that the defendants continue to evade responsibility for the epidemic they caused, the county must continue allocating its resources to address it.”

The defendants have denied the allegations in the lawsuits.

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