A lawsuit by Lee County seeking damages from multiple opioid manufacturers and distributors was filed in federal District Court on April 8.
Defendants named in the 162-page complaint include Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan PLC, Actavis, and several others.
Citing costs for providing medical care – including to “infants born with opioid-related medical conditions” and “providing care for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related disability or incapacitation” – as well “costs associated with law enforcement (and) public safety relating to the opioid epidemic,” the lawsuit seeks “all legal and equitable relief,” including attorney’s fees and any other expenses. There is no cost to the county if the suit is unsuccessful.
The action is one of many being filed by counties and municipalities across the nation over the accusation that the named companies illegally and misleadingly marketed highly addictive opioids to doctors who then overprescribed them, resulting in the epidemic plaguing the country.
“Before the 1990s, generally accepted standards of medical practice dictated that opioids should only be used short-term for acute pain, pain relating to recovery from surgery or for cancer and palliative (end-of-life) care,” the suit reads. “Due to the lack of evidence that opioids improved patients’ ability to overcome pain and function, coupled with evidence of greater pain complains as patients developed tolerance to opioids over time and the serious risk of addiction and other side effects, the use of opioids for chronic pain was discouraged and prohibited.”
Numbers particular to Lee County cited in the suit paint a picture of a “particularly devastating” local epidemic.
“From 2008 to 2016, opiate-related deaths in Lee County more than doubled to 51 compared to the previous nine-year period during which Lee experienced 25 opiate-related deaths. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that in Lee County approximately 129.6 opioid prescriptions were dispensed per 100 people in 2016. This was more than twice the national average for 2016 (66.5),” the suit reads. “In the years leading up to 2016, Lee County’s opioid prescription rate remained particularly high with 119 prescriptions dispensed per 100 people in 2015, 130.6 in 2014, and 144.9 in 2013, compared to national averages of 70.6 prescriptions per 100 people in 2015, 75.6 in 2014, and 78.1 in 2013.”
Lee County hopes to procure funding for increased enforcement, education/prevention, and treatment efforts. Although the legal action was initially approved in September, two Republican county commissioners – Kirk Smith and Arianna Del Palazzo – voted against moving forward with the lawsuit back in December, with Smith saying the epidemic “does not have its roots in legal pain medications” and Del Palazzo arguing that she didn’t believe a lawsuit would achieve the stated goals.
Meanwhile, manufacturers of the drug are facing both civil and criminal actions left and right. Lee County is represented in the lawsuit by local attorney Norman “Chip” Post Jr. and Ben Atwater of Siler City.