Texas County Sues Big Pharma over Alleged Role in Opioid Epidemic

opioid crisis
John Moore/Getty Images
MERRILL HOPE
Upshur County, TX

Attorneys for a county in East Texas announced Wednesday they filed a lawsuit in federal court against more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies for their alleged roles in the opioid painkiller epidemic gripping the state and the nation.

The case, County of Upshur v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al, marks the first Texas governmental body, Upshur County, to sue over opioids. It names a host of defendants including Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Abbott Laboratories, Cardinal Health, Allergan, Pfizer, and McKesson.

The lawsuit alleges that the companies engaged in deceptive marketing practices to encourage doctors to prescribe these powerful narcotics for chronic pain sufferers while minimizing their addictive properties, according to a press release from Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, P.C., counsel representing Upshur County in this action.

“While the pharmaceutical industry pulls in huge profits, local governments are bearing the weight of these industry marketing and sales tactics, having to find a way to pay for increased health care and community services, such as courts, child services, treatment centers, and law enforcement,” said Jeffrey Simon, the law firm’s co-founder, in the press release.

Breitbart Texas reported that, since 1999, the number of prescription opioids like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone dispensed in the United States almost quadrupled. Heroin is an illegal opioid. Tramadol and fentanyl are synthetic opioids. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) described fentanyl as “50 times more potent than heroin, is extremely dangerous to law enforcement and anyone else who may come into contact with it.”

Said Simon: “There is no denying that we have an opioid crisis in America, and that the human misery and financial damage it causes is enormous.” He added: “Although accidental overdoses have become the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, the pharmaceutical industry has not been fully held accountable for its role in creating this epidemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) accounted for nearly 2 million Americans who abused or became dependent on prescription opioid painkillers in 2014. More than 33,000 opioid-related deaths were reported nationwide in 2015, of which 1,186 were in Texas.

Recently, Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler estimated around seven deaths occur annually because of opioid addiction in the county, home to roughly 40,000 people, according to the Longview News-Journal.

“Opioid marketers and manufacturers deliberately mislead doctors and health care providers — even the (Federal Drug Administration) as to how addictive opioids were,” he told the Longview newspaper“I want to make very clear that we are not talking about suing any local doctors or health care providers. We are merely targeting the manufacturers, marketers, and distributors that mislead them.”

This summer, Breitbart Texas reported Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office joined a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general investigating whether drug manufacturers unlawfully marketed or sold opioids. Paxton defined the crisis as a “public safety and public health issue,” noting opioid-abuse, addiction, and overdose devastate families nationwide.

Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett filed the Upshur County lawsuit on September 29 in Marshall at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Along with co-counsel Martin Walker, P.C., they anticipate more lawsuits from the East Texas counties of Bowie, Delta, Hopkins, Lamar, Red River, and Smith.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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