Calling out Big Pharma, San Bernardino County sues over prescription opioid crisis

San Bernardino County sued major pharmaceutical companies, drug distributors and pharmacies on Thursday over “the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers and distribution practices” it says have led to a nationwide drug epidemic and the deaths of at least 35 people in the county last year.

In 2017, at least 259 people visited emergency rooms in the county with non-heroin opioid overdoses and another 179 were hospitalized for opioid overdoses, county officials said in a statement announcing Thursday’s lawsuit.

Nearly 1.5 million prescriptions were written here last year for opioid medications. County officials say any of those could lead to addiction or spikes in drug crimes or public health issues like Hepatitis C and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“The county and our residents are being severely affected by the opioid crisis,” Robert Lovingood, the Board of Supervisors chairman, said in the statement. “With this lawsuit, our county joins hundreds of counties across the United States in an important effort to hold these companies responsible for their role in creating the opioid epidemic.”

The legal group representing the county, Simmons Hanly Conroy, has filed similar suits on behalf of more than 200 municipalities elsewhere in the U.S., from New Mexico to New York.

Riverside County filed such a suit only last month.

Filed in federal court, the suit seeks relief associated with costs to the entity in fighting a crisis county officials say is fanned by “the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.”

County officials also allege the “public nuisance” is exacerbated and sustained by different points of the supply chain, including manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, which they say have sought to evade safety controls.

Erin Dickerson, a lawyer with Crueger Dickinson LLC and co-lead counsel in the suit, cast the litigation as furthering “the important work of addressing the opioid crisis.”

“Together, with Simmons Hanly Conroy, we will work to hold the defendants responsible,” Dickinson said in the statement, “and to secure help for the residents of San Bernardino County recovering from the opioid addiction.”

Those named in the lawsuit include Purdue Pharma and about two dozen other pharmaceutical entities, as well as Johnson & Johnson, CVS, Kroger, RiteAid, Walgreens and Walmart.

Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.

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