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Cook County sues pharmaceutical companies over opioid epidemic

Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Bill Ruthart

Cook County followed the path of five suburban counties Wednesday, filing a lawsuit against some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies that aims to hold them responsible for the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit alleges “unlawful marketing” by the manufacturers, which the county contends has led to an “opioid crisis facing Cook County residents,” according to a county news release.

The lawsuit comes after prosecutors in DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake counties filed their own lawsuits last week to join a growing nationwide effort to hold drug manufacturers responsible for unemployment, increased strain on social services, the tearing apart of families and crimes. The collar county lawsuits do not specify the exact amount of damages sought.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx called the human cost of the opioid crisis “truly staggering.”

In a news release, Board President Toni Preckwinkle explained why the county is suing.

“Opioid deaths are growing at an alarming rate. This is a public health crisis affecting nearly every community in the county for which we must find a solution,” Preckwinkle said. “We believe a good start is to aggressively confront one of the root causes of this national epidemic: the pharmaceutical companies and those paid by the pharmaceutical companies who put profits before public health and safety.”

In 2015, 647 people died in Cook County as the result of a drug overdose involving opioids, according to the county medical examiner’s office. In 2016, that number increased to 1,091 — a 70 percent increase. And last week, government figures were released that showed U.S. drug overdose deaths increasing by 21 percent in 2016, and for the second consecutive year, dragged down the life expectancy of Americans.

The Cook County lawsuit lists many of the same defendants as the suburban ones, including Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Endo Health Solutions. Representatives of the companies have defended their actions.

A spokeswoman for Janssen told the Chicago Tribune last week that the suburban lawsuits were “both legally and factually unfounded” and that “independent surveillance data” showed the company had a low rate of abuse with its medications.

The local lawsuits are part of a wave of civil cases that governments across the country have filed in federal and state courts against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. A key settlement emerged in 2007, when Purdue settled litigation for misbranding OxyContin and agreed to pay the U.S. $635 million.

A lawsuit filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan last year against Arizona drug company Insys was settled in August for $4.45 million. The company agreed to pay Illinois to settle allegations that it deceptively marketed and sold a prescription opioid drug for uses that had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Madigan said she would use the money to battle opioid abuse in the state.

bruthhart@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @BillRuthhart



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