Dane County filed suit in federal court Thursday against the biggest makers and distributors of opioid drugs, citing huge upswings in opioid use and abuse for non-medical purposes.
The suit was initially announced in April but wasn’t filed until now, as attorneys took two months to draft the massive, more than 300-page lawsuit document.
The lawsuit is similar to hundreds of lawsuits filed by municipalities against opioid makers and distributors, along the same lines as the fight against tobacco companies decades ago. Opioids act on the nervous system to relieve pain.
The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Madison is only for Dane County, officials said. County spokeswoman Stephanie Miller said there is no cost to taxpayers except for staff time.
The Dallas-based law firm Baron & Budd had its Baton Rouge, Louisiana, office help Dane County in the lawsuit.
“The opioid epidemic has taken a tremendous toll on our community, in lives lost, families hurt and taxpayers shouldering the tremendous cost of trying to manage this growing crisis,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in announcing the lawsuit Thursday.
The suit alleges many of the nation’s largest drug manufacturers pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids and deliberately misinformed doctors by claiming that patients using the drugs rarely experience addiction.
Numbers in Dane County prove otherwise, the suit contends.
“More people die from drug poisoning in the county than any other death from injury, including car accidents,” the suit states. “Misuse of prescription, over the counter or illicit drugs caused 85 percent of these drug poisoning deaths.”
Opioid overdose deaths in Dane County went up sixfold in 17 years, from 13 in 2000 to 85 in 2016.
The number of ambulance calls that involved nalaxone administered to overdose patients totaled 443 in Dane County in 2015, the second-highest number in Wisconsin.
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The companies named in Dane County’s suit include Purdue Pharma; Teva Ltd.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Allergan PLC; Mallinckrodt; and Insys Therapeutics Inc.
Opioids made by the companies include the brand names OxyContin, Actiq, Fentora, Duragesic, Nucynta/Nucynta ER, Opana/Opana ER, Percodan, Percocet, Zydone, Kadian and Norco.
Statistics from the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program show more than 300,000 opioid prescriptions have been dispensed to Dane County residents every year since 2013, in a county that has about 500,000 residents.
The county spent about $7.5 million in 2017 on drug and alcohol abuse treatment and prevention.
“We need more resources to help our friends and neighbors who are addicted to these dangerous drugs,” Parisi said.
The suit also alleges three of the country’s largest drug distributors — Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson Corp. — failed to monitor, identify and report suspicious activity in the size and frequency of opioid shipments to pharmacies, in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Three large retail pharmacies — CVS, Walgreens and Walmart — are also named in the suit for failing to report suspicious opioid orders.
Burton LeBlanc of Baron & Budd maintained the opioid epidemic here and throughout the country didn’t happen by accident.
“These Fortune 500 corporations were motivated by greed, and acted with total disregard for the dangerous consequences of dumping these drugs throughout the country,” LeBlanc said.
Baron & Budd is one of seven large law firms in America representing the more than 500 cities and counties that have filed lawsuits of this nature.
At the beginning of April, 66 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties already had filed opioid lawsuits, according to the Wisconsin Counties Association.