The city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are suing eight pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, alleging the companies trivialized the risk of opioid addiction while overstating the benefits of the drugs.
The manufacturers named in the suit include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Mallinckrodt.
County solicitor Andy Szefi said the companies deceptively marketed opioids to prescribers.
“Medicines that were designed to be acute care and palliative end of life care that were marketed as long term pain management care,” Szefi said.
Over the past eight years, more than 1,000 people have died in Pittsburgh from opioid-related overdoses; 587 of those deaths occurred between 2015 and 2017.
The suit also alleges that distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation failed to report suspicious orders to law enforcement.
John Parker, senior vice president of the trade group Healthcare Distribution Alliance, said in an e-mailed statement that blaming drug distributors such as McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen is misguided.
“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,” Parker said.
Endo Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Percocet, denies the allegations and would not comment on the lawsuit. But a spokesperson did say in an e-mail that Endo stopped promoting opioids and eliminated its related salesforce in December 2016.
“We are committed to working collaboratively to develop and implement a comprehensive solution to the opioid crisis, which is a complex problem with several causes that are difficult to disentangle,” read the e-mail.
The four other companies named in the suit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Szefi said he hopes to recoup some of the costs paid by taxpayers.
“Autopsies in the Medical Examiner’s office, incarcerations in the jail, our Department of Human Services for the effect this has on families here in the county,” he said.
The county said its health care plan has picked up $2.2 million on opioid prescriptions in the last seven years. Over the past five years, worker’s compensation has shelled out $885,000.
Beaver, York, Dauphin and Philadelphia counties have also filed similar lawsuits.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is leading a multi-state investigation into the marketing practices of opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Szefi said he hopes this suit, along with dozens of others like it across the country, will change the way business is done in the pharmaceutical industry.