June 28, 2018
PROVIDENCE, RI– Mayor Jorge Elorza announced a lawsuit today as part of the City’s ongoing campaign to combat the mounting and devastating effects of the opioid epidemic. The suit, filed by the City against several opioid manufacturers and distributors, asserts a rising death toll, burgeoning black market, and financial burdens on the City caused by the alleged deceptive marketing, prescribing, over distribution and sale of opioids in Providence and surrounding areas. The City claims the defendants’ conduct created a public nuisance, was negligent, negligent per se, grossly negligent, engaged in negligent misrepresentation and were unjustly enriched. Additionally, the suit states the manufacturer defendants violated the State False Claims Act and engaged in fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation.
“Too many lives have been lost as the result of the growing opioid epidemic facing our city, state and nation. The loss of life alone is something that, of course, we can never replace, but we do have the power to change the circumstances that created this public health crisis,” said Mayor Elorza. “As the Capital City, we are fully committed to taking on this challenge for the sake of our community and we are collaborating with other capital cities who understand the unique challenges cities face with this issue. We believe that the pharmaceutical industry and opioid distributors have played an undeniable role in creating this crisis and we want to hold these players accountable for their action and hopefully save lives.”
The manufacturing defendants are: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. N/K/A Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc. N/K/A Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Insys Therapeutics, Inc.; Mallinckdrot, LLC; and Mallinckrodt PLC.
The distributor defendants are: McKesson Corporation d/b/a McKesson Drug Company; AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation; and Cardinal Health; Inc.
The City claims the manufacturer defendants:
- Falsely trivialized, mischaracterized and failed to disclose the known, serious risks of addiction.
- Falsely described addiction as pseudoaddication and dangerously encouraged doctors to respond by prescribing more opioids.
- Overstated the benefits of chronic opioid therapy while failing to disclose the lack of evidence supporting long-term use.
- Continued to tell doctors that opioids could be taken in ever higher doses without disclosing their greater risks.
- Purdue misleadingly promoted OxyContin as supplying 12 hours of pain relief when Purdue knew that, for many patients, it did not.
- Purdue and Endo overstated the efficacy of abuse-deterrent opioid formulations.
- Purdue made deceptive statements about its efforts to address the opioid crisis.
- Insys employed fraudulent, illegal and misleading marketing schemes to promote Subsys.
Subsequently and compounding upon the actions of the manufacturer defendants, the City claims the distributor defendants deliberately disregarded their duties to report suspicious orders and to exercise reasonable care. The City claims that Mallinckrodt failed its duties to maintain effective controls against diversion and report suspicious prescribing.
Both manufacturer and distributor defendants repeatedly violated their reporting requirements, worked together to sustain their markets and boost their products, ignored red flags of abuse and diversion, hid their lack of cooperation with law enforcement and falsely claimed to be actively working to prevent diversion and fraudulently concealed their misconduct, the City states. Additionally, the City claims by increasing opioid prescriptions and use, defendants collectively fueled the opioid epidemic and significantly harmed the City and its citizens.
While opioids can dampen the perception of pain, they can also create an addictive, euphoric high. The medical community recognized these dangers and originally used opioids cautiously and sparingly, typically only for short-term acute pain—where brief use limited the need for escalating doses and the risk of addiction—or for palliative (end-of-life) care. The complaint describes how, in order to expand their market and profits, defendants initiated, and for years have maintained, a deceptive marketing scheme that was intentionally designed to, and effectively did, change the perception of opioids to permit and encourage the long-term use of opioids for widespread chronic conditions like back pain, migraines, and arthritis. Defendants used both direct marketing and unbranded advertising disseminated by seemingly independent third parties to spread false and misleading statements about the risks and benefits of long-term opioid use.
Compounding these harms, manufacturers and distributors alike turned a blind eye to suspicious orders and shipments of opioid painkillers, thereby enabling the funneling of diverted drugs into black markets. As increased volumes of opioids flooded Providence and communities nationwide, heightened addiction, overdose and death rates soon followed. The City asserts that the deceptive and misleading marketing of opioids by the manufacturers and the careless, even reckless, distribution of opioids into the City by the distributors correlate directly to the skyrocketing addiction, overdose, and death rates, as well as a concomitant rise in heroin and fentanyl abuse by individuals who could no longer legally acquire—or simply could not afford—prescription opioids.
The suit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island. Motley Rice attorneys Linda Singer, Robert J. McConnell, Kate E. Menard and Jeffrey C. Nelson are outside counsel for the City.