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Joe Parisi

“There’s really no one left untouched by this either physically, emotionally or economically,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said of the opioid crisis in Dane County.

Dane County filed suit in federal court Thursday against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for allegedly misinforming doctors and contributing to the widespread opioid epidemic that is taking a human and economic toll across the nation and locally.

“Today’s actions demand accountability for the corporations that have fueled this vicious cycle,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “We believe those that have profited also bear responsibility for the damage they have caused.”

The repercussions are adding up. From 2000 to 2016, the number of opioid-involved deaths in Dane County grew from 13 to 85. In 2015, there were 443 ambulance runs in which the overdose reversal drug naloxone was used — the second highest amount in the state.

“Lives have been lost, families have been hurt and Dane County taxpayers have shouldered the tremendous cost of trying to manage this growing crisis,” Parisi said.

The lawsuit was filed in Madison in federal district court but will be transferred to Cleveland where 735 cases are consolidated in a multidistrict litigation, said Mike Modl, local counsel to Dane County.

The suit alleges that drug manufacturers pushed addictive opioids and misinformed doctors by claiming that patients rarely experienced addiction, that distributors failed to monitor and report suspicious activity and that retail pharmacies failed to report suspicious opioid orders.

The manufacturers, distributors and retail pharmacies named in the lawsuit include:

  • Purdue Pharma
  • Teva Ltd., which acquired Cephalon, Inc.
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson
  • Endo Health Solutions, Inc.
  • Allergan PLC
  • Mallinckrodt
  • Insys Therapeutics, Inc.
  • Cardinal Health
  • AmerisourceBergen
  • McKesson Corp.
  • CVS
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart

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Judge Dan Aaron Polster has the challenge of resolving the hundreds of federal lawsuits brought by cities, counties and Native American tribes against the makers and distributors of prescription opioids. The case started last year in the Northern District of Ohio and a trial is scheduled for March 2019.

“We do know we have a judge that has an interest in expeditiously getting this to resolution,” Modl said. “If it can’t be resolved, at the end of multi-district litigation if the case isn’t settled all of the individual cases go back to where they started.”

But Modl said most cases are resolved in multidistrict litigation.

Parisi said the purpose of the lawsuit is to seek justice for those who have been adversely affected by the opioid crisis.

“There’s really no one left untouched by this either physically, emotionally or economically,” Parisi said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.