A northwest Kansas-based alcohol and drug addiction treatment center has filed a petition seeking a class-action lawsuit in federal district court against several big pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors regarding a growing opioid addiction crisis.
The petition — filed by Valley Hope Association late last week — accuses the defendants of racketeering activity, alleging the companies engaged in “false and deceptive” marketing tactics. It also accuses the large drug distributors of unlawful activity.
“Valley Hope filed this lawsuit because of the irresponsible and profit-driven distribution of opioids by drug manufacturers with no regard to how addictive those drugs can be,” President and CEO Pat George said in a media release. “Every day, 115 people die from opioid overdoses in the United States. The epidemic costs our country $78.5 billion a year in healthcare costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment services and criminal justice involvement. I’ve seen first-hand the tragic effects of opioid addiction on individuals and families. We must do everything we can to bring this epidemic to an end.”
Valley Hope, a private, non-profit organization, is based in Norton but now has 16 service locations across seven states.
The defendants listed in the petition are: AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp., Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc., The Purdue Frederick Co. Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Noramco Inc., Endo Health Solutions Inc., Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan PLC, Actavis Inc., Watson Laboratories Inc., Actavis LLC, Actavis Pharma Inc., Mallinckrodt PLC and Mallinckrodt LLC. Defendants had not yet filed a response as of Wednesday afternoon.
Valley Hope is represented by Rex A. Sharp, based in Prairie Village, The Lanier Law Firm in Oklahoma City and Rebein Brothers of Dodge City.
Nationwide, there have been a number of lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers in the wake of a prescription drug problem that has been described as an epidemic.
Statistics cited in the legal petition note that, by 2010, enough prescription opioids were sold to medicate every adult in the U.S. with a dose of 5 milligrams of hydrocodone every four hours for one month. The national death toll from prescription painkiller overdoses has more than tripled in the last 10 years. Overdoses of prescription painkillers are now thought to kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.
Valley Hope’s petition alleges manufacturing companies engaged in “false, deceptive and unfair” marketing techniques that, in part, were designed to convince doctors opioids could be used for chronic pain instead of only short-term, acute pain. It also accuses the companies of targeting susceptible medical providers and vulnerable patient populations.
The document outlines specific allegations against each of the defendants listed. It also alleges the drug distributors failed to maintain effective controls and report suspicious orders. The document also asserts the defendants’ dealings in controlled substances could be punishable as felonies.
A trade group representing medical distributors is contesting those accusations.
“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders," John Parker, senior vice president of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, said in a statement issued Friday morning. "Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”
The class action lawsuit seeks to represent all treatment facilities in the United States that treated patients with opioid-related conditions.
The legal document notes Valley Hope and similar providers often take a financial loss when providing services, as most insurers pay a lower rate. Uninsured patients often are unable to pay their bills, also resulting in financial loss.
The plaintiff is seeking actual damages and treble damages — which are triple the amount of actual damages — and attorney’s fees. Valley Hope Association also has demanded a trial by jury.