Washington City Sues OxyContin Maker over Opioid Epidemic

Washington City Sues OxyContin Maker over Opioid Epidemic

The city of Everett, Washington, is suing Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, alleging the company ignored the criminal trafficking of its pills to “reap large and obscene profits,” and demanding it pay for the cost of widespread opioid addiction in the community. [1]

On January 18, the Everett City Council unanimously approved a motion to sue Purdue. Council vice president Cassie Franklin said:

“Our council is in full support because there is not a single member of our community that has not been impacted by this epidemic.” [2]

The lawsuit was filed the next day, January 19.

Los Angeles Times investigation last year prompted the lawsuit. The paper revealed that Purdue had extensive evidence indicated illegal trafficking nationwide, but in numerous cases never bothered to share it with law enforcement or stem the flow of pills. [1]

The Suit

One Los Angeles drug-trafficking ring supplied gang members and other criminals with OxyContin, who then sold the pills in Everette, a city of 100,000 north of Seattle. In 2010, when the opioid problem peaked, more than half of the crimes in Snohomish County were somehow linked to OxyContin, and it sparked a heroin crisis that continues to ravage the area.

The complaint, filed in state Superior Court, accuses Purdue of gross negligence, creating a public nuisance, and other misconduct, and city lawyers say the drug maker should have to foot the bill for handling the opioid crisis – which Mayor Ray Stephanson estimates could run tens of millions of dollars – as well as punitive damages.

City lawyers wrote in the complaint:

“Purdue’s improper actions of placing profits over the welfare of the citizens of Everett have caused and will continue to cause substantial damages to Everett.

Purdue is liable for its intentional, reckless, and/or negligent misconduct and should not be allowed to evade responsibility for its callous and unconscionable practices.”

In the last 2 decades, Purdue has been the subject of hundreds of lawsuits over its marketing of OxyContin to doctor’s and the pills’ highly addictive nature, but Everett’s suit is unique in that it is the first to focus specifically on what the company knew about criminal distribution of the painkiller.

Read: Even the “Safest” of RX Opioids Highly Addictive, say Experts

In 2007, Purdue and its executives paid $600 million in fines for misrepresenting the addictive nature of OxyContin. In 2010, the pill was reformulated to make it harder to crush and snort, but many addicts turned to cheaper heroin to get their fix. [3]

Source: Opiate Addiction and Treatment Resource

Said Stephanson:

“Our jails are overwhelmed, our treatment system lacks capacity to meet the growing needs, and our residents and businesses demand that we do more. Purdue must be held accountable.”

Purdue Pharma said in a statement:

“We share public officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”

The Investigation

Source: The Huffington Post

The Los Angeles Times published its bombshell report last July, disclosing that for more than a decade, an internal security team at Purdue monitored doctors and pharmacies it suspected of supplying drug dealers and addicts. Criminals in the LA ring set up a bogus clinic near MacArthur Park in 2008 and teamed up with corrupt doctors and pharmacies to get their hands on OxyContin for 18 months. [1]

Read: Drug Companies Flooded W.V. With More Than 780 Million Pain Pills

When a Purdue sales manager visited the phony clinic to look into the high volume of prescriptions, she discovered a dilapidated building teeming with “rough men” and urged supervisors to notify the DEA, saying she was “very certain this is an organized drug ring.”

But the sales managers’ pleas and additional evidence suggesting OxyContin was pouring into the hands of criminals fell on deaf ears, and company officials failed to notify authorities until years later. By that time, 1.1 million pills had passed through the clinic, the drug ring was out of business, and its leaders were under indictment.

Days after the newspaper published the report, Everett began quietly looking into a lawsuit against Purdue and hired a Seattle law firm to evaluate a case.

Stephanson said:

“We know this is a bold action we are taking, but it is the right thing to do.”

Staci McCole, 1 of 2 social workers recently embedded with the police department to help officers handle addicts, said:

“A lot of individuals we are coming across have worked, have had a job, and somehow they were introduced to prescription drugs.

In the suit, city lawyers wrote that the heroin crisis “is directly attributable to Purdue’s wrongful and tortious conduct.”

Hil Kama, Everett public health and safety director said they believe that the heroin epidemic is a direct result of the city being flooded with OxyContin, and added:

“Our capacity to respond has been overwhelmed, and Purdue should pay for the harm they caused.”


[1] Los Angeles Times

[2] The Herald

[3] New York Daily News

NBC News

Opiate Addiction and Treatment Resource

The Huffington Post