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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 1:00 am

City, county officially file opioid suits

Blame makers, distributors for crisis

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne and Allen County each have filed federal lawsuits against the makers and distributors of opioid drugs. City and county officials announced in December they would sue the companies, saying the pharmaceutical industry misrepresented the nature of opioid painkillers including those under the brand names OxyContin, Vicodin and Opana.

The county's lawsuit names drugmakers including Purdue Pharma and Janssen Pharmaceuticals among several defendants. The city is suing Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp., distributors with combined annual revenues of $400 billion that control 80 percent of the opioid market, an attorney for the city said last month.

“Opioid addiction and overdose in the United States as a result of prescription opioid use has reached epidemic levels over the past decade,” the county's lawsuit says. “Indiana and Allen County are in the midst of this crisis.”

The lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, and both entities are seeking unspecified damages.

The filings come as states, cities and counties across the U.S. take to courts to fight an opioid epidemic officials say is sapping the budgets of public agencies. Drug manufacturers and distributors have flooded the market with the potent painkillers, and it has fallen to municipalities to deal with fallout that includes paying for treatment for addicts and increased arrests for drug crimes, the municipalities say.

Ohio and Mississippi are suing, according to news reports, and the cities of Chicago and Detroit have also filed lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors.

Deaths tied to opioids have increased in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, as the amount of painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctor's offices quadrupled from 1999 to 2010.

Ninety-one Americans die each day from opioid overdoses, according to the CDC.

“Allen County's Board of Health estimates that 50,000 people of the roughly 350,000 people in Allen County are opioid dependent in some form, with between 6,000 to 10,000 as intravenous users,” court documents filed by the county say.

Citing data from the Indiana State Department of health, court documents filed by the city state hospital visits for non-fatal opioid overdoses doubled to nearly 31 per 100,000 population from 2011-15.

“Having profited enormously through the aggressive sale, misleading promotion and irresponsible distribution of opiates, defendants should be required to take responsibility for the financial burdens their conduct has inflicted upon the plaintiff and plaintiff's community,” the city states in court documents.

Allen County commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 15 to approve a contract with law firm Crueger Dickinson LLC of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, to sue the companies.

The city is represented by Taft Stettinus & Hollister LLP of Indianapolis. 

mleblanc@jg.net