Siskiyou County has joined 29 other counties in a lawsuit aimed at the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids, alleging that the defendants’ actions have helped create a widespread opioid addiction crisis.
Spread across over 300 pages, the complaint filed in the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Redding Division on May 9 lays out a series of charges against a number of pharmaceutical companies. The companies include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Cardinal Health, Cephalon, Endo Health Solutions, Mallinckrodt, and others.
Siskiyou joins a majority of California’s other counties in filing a suit, including neighboring counties such as Modoc and Shasta and others at the complete opposite end of the state, including San Diego and Imperial counties.
“Plaintiffs bring this civil action to eliminate the hazard to public health and safety caused by the opioid epidemic, to abate the nuisance caused thereby, and to recoup monies that have been spent and will be spent because of Defendants’ false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids,” the complaint opens. “Such economic damages were foreseeable to Defendants and were sustained because of Defendants’ intentional and/or unlawful actions and omissions.”
The complaint goes on to allege that “[o]pioid analgesics are widely diverted and improperly used, and the widespread abuse of opioids has resulted in a national epidemic of opioid overdose deaths and addictions.”
Dozens of pages are devoted to the allegations against the companies, covering everything from forming groups to promote opioid use to paying doctors to downplay adverse effects and the potential for addiction.
For example, the complaint states that Doctor David Haddox, an employee of Purdue Pharma, invented a term called “pseudoaddiction” that was later used by pharmaceutical companies to suggest that people showing symptoms of addiction were in fact underprescribed and needed more opioids.
The plaintiffs also allege that the companies, along with their various “front groups” and paid doctors, spread misinformation to doctors and patients about the efficacy of opioids for long term pain management, the addiction risk for all types of patients, and the benefits of using opioids compared to other types of pain relief.
While the complaint reads similarly for different plaintiffs, Siskiyou’s version contains information about opioid abuse and related deaths in the county. For example, it notes that in 2016, 10 people died from opioid overdoses in the county. Utilizing a common per capita calculation, the county’s overdose death rate for that year was 22 people per 100,000 – making it the third highest rate in the state for 2016.
In the span between 2009 and 2013, the county saw 21 deaths due to opioids, which is a rate of 10.39 deaths per 100,000 people.
Relying on Centers for Disease Control statistics for prescription rates, the county’s complaint notes that, in 2016, the national prescribing rate for opioids was 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people, and the rate for California was 44.8 prescriptions per 100. In comparison, the prescription rate for just Siskiyou County that year was 117.2 prescriptions per 100 people, according to the CDC. The complaint notes that those numbers were not an aberration; in 2014, the rate for Siskiyou County was 114.7 per 100 people, and in 2013, it was 124 prescriptions per 100 people.
The plaintiffs ask the court to find that the defendants knowingly misled doctors and the public at large regarding opioid issues, and find that they should have to pay for the costs associated with the opioid epidemic, including increased criminal activity at pharmacies and the costs of responding to overdoses and rising healthcare liabilities.
The complaint also contains allegations of racketeering and criminal conspiracy, with the plaintiffs asking the court to award damages for numerous impacts of the opioid abuse epidemic, and bar the plaintiffs from falsely advertising the benefits or drawbacks associated with their products.
In a statement issued late last week, Siskiyou County Counsel Edward Kiernan states, “The County seeks to recover taxpayer funds used to respond to the opioid epidemic. Local government services have been subsidizing the impact of the opioid epidemic, created by irresponsible multi-billion dollar corporations, which have placed profits over public safety, not to mention the costs to taxpayers.”