Denver is leading a coalition of 17 Colorado local governments in filing suit against a group of opioid makers and distributors.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court on Jan. 11, alleges that the jurisdictions continue to suffer the consequences of the companies’ aggressive marketing and excessive distribution of prescription opioids, while deliberately downplaying the significant risks of addiction and overdose. The coalition is represented by outside counsel Keller Rohrback and Reilly Pozner.
“These companies knew better, and they still allowed the devastation to occur in our communities and communities across the United States,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a press release. “This crisis could have and should have been avoided. So, we’re using every legal tool available to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors liable for the social and economic devastation their actions have caused in our cities, our counties and to our people.”
The lawsuit follows in line with one filed by the state in September against Purdue Pharma. That lawsuit claimed the pharmaceutical company was responsible for fabricated medical studies and targeted specific medical practitioners who were likely to overprescribe or incorrectly prescribe opioids to patients.
The lawsuit filed by the coalition lists claims for:
• Public nuisance
• Violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act
• Gross negligence
• Unjust enrichment
• Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
• Fraud and deceit
• Civil conspiracy
In making its case, the complaint tracks the use of opioids from 3400 BC through its pharmaceutical uses today and says the defendant companies used an advertising blitz across decades to capitalize on their products’ highly addictive properties.
“OxyContin, the product with the dubious honor of the starring role in the opioid epidemic is pure oxycodone,” the complaint states. “The weakest OxyContin delivers as much narcotic as the strongest Percocet.”
The lawsuit claims a group of pharmaceutical companies are responsible for misinforming doctors about addiction risks and that physical dependence to opioids was easy to overcome. The lawsuit also claims the pharmaceutical companies told doctors that opioids were safe and effective for treating chronic pain; the complaint references a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that published guidance saying the contrary.
The City and County of Denver claims it saw 870 residents die of opioid-related overdoses between 2008 and 2017. In addition to the lawsuit, the City and County circulated a document on the impacts of the opioid crisis on the city, citing the fact that librarians now carry overdose treatment drug Narcan and, as of September, the city had trained more than 500 of its library staff to administer Narcan. The city referenced the expense, and the risk, of having its first responders and Department of Safety officers on the front lines and having city libraries and parks primary locations for drug use and overdoses.
“The over-prescription and (mis)use of opioids is taking a toll on the country, resulting in death, visits to the emergency room, hospital stays and unmeasurable pain felt by those who have become addicted to these drugs as well as their families and communities,” said Bob McDonald, Department of Public Health administrator for Denver and executive director of Public Health & Environment. “The opioid epidemic is one of the largest public health issues we face.”
Joining Denver on the lawsuit are Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Fremont, Larimer and Teller counties; the City and County of Broomfield; the municipalities of Aurora, Black Hawk, Commerce City, Hudson, Northglenn and Westminster; and the Tri-County Health Department.
Jefferson County and the City of Thornton have also filed similar, but separate complaints.
According to the City and County of Denver, the lawsuit will join more than 1,500 cases filed on behalf of counties and cities nationwide.
The defendants named in the complaint are:
• Purdue Pharma, L.P.
• Purdue Pharma, Inc.
• The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.
• Endo Health Solutions Inc.
• Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
• Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
• Johnson & Johnson;
• Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries, Ltd.
• Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
• Cephalon, Inc.
• Allergan plc f/k/a Actavis plc
• Allergan Finance, LLC f/k/a Actavis, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
• Watson Laboratories, Inc.
• Actavis, LLC
• Actavis Pharma, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc
• Mallinckrodt plc
• Mallinckrodt, LLC
• SpecGX, LLC
• Cardinal Health, Inc.
• McKesson Corporation
• AmerisourceBergen Drug
— Tony Flesor