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Allegheny County, Pittsburgh sue 8 opioid manufacturers, distributors

| Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 11:36 a.m.
This file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone.
Patrick Sison/AP
This file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone.

Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against eight pharmaceutical companies that make opioids in an effort to recoup money lost to a drug crisis officials say was spurred by unchecked prescribing practices.

The lawsuits, filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, seek punitive and compensatory damages, as well as a permanent injunction to keep the companies from “engaging in the acts and practices that led to the opioid crisis,” according to a county and city news release.

The companies listed as defendants are Purdue Pharma LP; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Mallinckrodt plc; Cardinal Health Inc.; McKesson Corp.; and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp.

“This lawsuit is about changing the way the opioid industry does business. The deceptive marketing of these drugs has created a public health crisis and placed a burden on our communities and families while drug companies made record profits,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in the release.

Mayor Bill Peduto added: “This is a public health catastrophe that is tearing apart the fabric of Pittsburgh's families, neighborhoods and government services. Those perpetuating this epidemic must be held accountable.”

The opioid crisis has hit Western Pennsylvania especially hard.

Delaware and York counties have filed similar suits.

Beaver County became the first in Western Pennsylvania to seek damages from drug companies within the context of the opioid epidemic, which has mushroomed from prescription painkillers such as OxyContin to heroin and, now, powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl and its offshoots.

Westmoreland County filed a similar lawsuit in December, one in which officials are looking to recoup money lost to the epidemic. In 2016, taxpayers paid nearly $19 million to fund government operations related to the opioid epidemic.

That suit — which seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages from 27 drug companies, doctors and distributors — is about more than just making a point about deceptive practices, county commissioner Chairwoman Gina Cerilli said at the time.

“This all has to do with the drug epidemic, and we're trying to recoup our costs. This isn't to just make a point,” she said.

Allegheny County officials began seeking proposals for a similar lawsuit around the same time, issuing a “request for qualifications” Dec. 8 in which officials sought to hire legal counsel to determine the economic impact of the epidemic.

In March, the county hired South Carolina-based firm Motley Rice to explore the possibility of filing a suit. The county agreed to pay the firm 20 percent of whatever recovery the county receives after the firm's costs are deducted.

The lawsuit alleges the companies created a public nuisance, violated the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, made fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations, and other counts.

Allegheny County is experiencing opioid-related overdose rates higher than statewide and national rates, the release said.

In 2016, 93 percent of overdose deaths in the county were opioid-related, and it was the third consecutive year in which the number of fatal overdoses was higher than in any prior year, the release said.

County medical examiner numbers put the 2017 overdose death total at 735, up from 650 in 2016 and 424 in 2015. The totals, recorded by Overdose Free PA, can lag several months behind, and the 2018 count is currently listed at 28.

In addition to overdose deaths, the high rate of opioid addiction results in the county spending more on emergency room visits, emergency medical responses, and administration of Narcan by first responders.

The city also spends more on investigating, monitoring, treating and policing, as well as health care and workers' compensation for employees.

The city spent more than $2.2 million from its health care plan on opioid prescriptions during the last seven years, the release said.

Theresa Clift and Megan Guza are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Clift at 412-380-5669, or via Twitter @tclift. Reach Guza at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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