The Pike County Commissioners have filed a lawsuit joining several other Pennsylvania counties, seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors accountable for what is seen as there role in promoting the current and spreading opioid crisis in America.

MILFORD - The Pike County Commissioners have filed a lawsuit joining several other Pennsylvania counties, seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors accountable for what is seen as there role in promoting the current and spreading opioid crisis in America.  

The suit has filed the lawsuit on behalf of Pike County, in state court in Pennsylvania. The drug companies are being targeted over what the complainant describes as “aggressive and fraudulent marketing” of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the county and throughout the nation.

At the May 16th Commissioners’ meeting, Chairman Matthew Osterberg announced, “I think it is important that you see that Pike County has taken a step towards making and holding these people responsible [the drug companies] for what they’ve done…. We are sending this on the pharmaceuticals and manufacturers and distributors, that enough is enough. They need to come to the table and start figuring out how they are going to help counties like us, protect our families, and stop this nonsense…. This is out if control. It’s all about money.”

He cited the example of a doctor in Lycoming County in late 2017, who was found to have distributes 2.7 million opioid prescriptions on 19 months, which has helped to spread the drug addiction epidemic.

Osterberg said that if each prescription was 30 pills, and if for example, each pill cost a dollar, he asked who is getting that money while all these pills are going out to the public. “And we’re supposed to believe someone is regulating them,” he added.

Secured legal firm

The County secured the legal services of Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, and Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller, a leading Philadelphia law firm advocating for victims of catastrophic injuries in Pennsylvania.

The defendants in the lawsuit include drug makers Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The drug distributors named in the lawsuit are McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., and AmerisourceBergen Corporation.

In the complaint, filed in state court in Pennsylvania, the county 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 misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use. 

“Ravaged”

“Pike County, like many other counties in Pennsylvania, has been ravaged by the opioid crisis,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul J. Hanly, Jr., lead co-counsel for the county in this case. 

“This lawsuit represents the county’s continued leadership in combating this crisis. Together, with county leaders, we will seek justice for the residents of Pike County.”

“It is not okay that more than 5,000 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses in just 2017 alone.  We must take this action to stem the tide.” said Greg Heller of Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller, co-counsel for the County in the case.”

Overdose deaths up 20.1%

According to the complaint, Pennsylvania saw a 20.1 percent increase in overdose deaths related to opioids in 2015, as compared to the previous year. In 2016, Pennsylvania coroners and medical examiners reported 4,642 drug-related overdose deaths. The rate of drug-related overdose deaths in Pennsylvania increased from 26.7 per 100,000 in 2015 to 36.5 per 100,000 in 2016, far exceeding the national average (16.3 per 100,000). Pike County had seven overdose deaths in 2015 and 10 overdose deaths in 2016, which is a 42 percent increase in only one year.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks.

This was allegedly perpetrated through a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive promotion and marketing campaign – including unbranded messaging to evade extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications. These communications, which began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006 and continue today.

Specifically, the complaint details how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other “educational” 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.

Drug distributors have both the obligation and the tools to track suspiciously large surges in opioid demand, including at the level of individual pharmacies or clinics. The lawsuit alleges, however, that the defendants have failed to use these tools to warn public officials about suspicious orders, which they are legally required to do, or to reasonably exercise controls over the obvious oversupply of opioid pills.

The Pike County lawsuit follows similar, ongoing action filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of counties across the country. Commissioner Steve Guccini said that the cases have been consolidated in Delaware County Court for pre-trial proceedings and settlement discussions. If any of the cases actually proceed to trial, those cases will be sent back to the county of origin. As for the timeline, Guccini said it is hard to say but will be “beyond months.”

In January 2018, Hanly was appointed co-lead counsel of the Multidistrict Opioid Litigation, to oversee all federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioids. Those cases are being heard in federal court in Ohio.

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Apart from the toll on human life, the crisis has financially strained the services the county provides its residents and employees. Human services, social services, court services, law enforcement services, 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, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ egregious conduct, the county has paid, and continues to pay, hundreds of thousands of dollars for health care costs stemming from prescription opioid dependency. These costs include unnecessary and excessive opioid prescriptions, substance abuse treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, and inpatient hospital services, among others. The defendants’ conduct also caused the county to incur substantial economic, administrative and social costs relating to opioid addiction and abuse, including criminal justice costs, victimization costs, child protective services costs, lost productivity costs, and education and prevention program costs, among others.

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About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC

Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms. Primary areas of litigation include asbestos and mesothelioma, pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental, sexual abuse litigation and personal injury. The firm’s attorneys have been appointed to leadership in numerous national multidistrict litigations, including most recently prescription opioids, Vioxx, Yaz, Toyota Unintended Acceleration and DePuy Pinnacle. In January 2018, Shareholder Paul J. Hanly, Jr. was appointed co-lead counsel of the Multidistrict Opioid Litigation, to oversee all federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioids. The firm also represents small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving business litigation. Offices are located in Alton, Ill.; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York City; San Francisco; and St. Louis. Read more at www.simmonsfirm.com.

About Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller

Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller is a firm of trial lawyers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Greg Heller is a founding partner in the firm.  His practice is divided between representing plaintiffs in catastrophic personal injury cases and various efforts to address the addiction epidemic, including litigation and legislative advocacy designed to stem the tide of dangerously addictive drugs, remove barriers to addiction treatment, and expand access to addiction treatment.