City of Columbus sues 25 drug companies, claiming damages for opioid epidemic

File photo (WSYX/WTTE)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) — Carlene Davis-Dale didn't think her son's minor surgeries would change their lives forever.

"We felt the physician was prescribing what was necessary to control the pain," Davis-Dale said.

Her son Drake was given prescription pain pills after a minor hand surgery and getting his wisdom teeth removed. She said her son's father was a pharmacist so they were always weary of any potential side effects.

"We were very precautious for any medications our son took," she said. "We had no idea it would have the long-lasting effect to lead to drug addiction."

Drake became addicted to the pain pills which eventually turned into a heroin addiction. Davis-Dale said it's about time someone was held responsible.

"It has to stop somewhere," she said. "The blame has to be put on someone and I think it goes back to the drug companies."

The City of Columbus has filed a lawsuit against more than two dozen drug manufacturers, accusing them of damages as a result of the city's opioid crisis.

The lawsuit follows similar legal action by the State of Ohio, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. The lawsuit alleges the drug companies had a role in creating the opioid epidemic in Central Ohio.

"This is this something that every neighborhood can feel the squeeze on from the over-proliferation of opioids from the pharmaceutical industry," incoming City Attorney Zach Klein said. "This it's not about filling city coffers. This is about getting people to help they need to educate people about the dangers of opioid abuse."

It also asks for damages, because the city says opioid addiction has led to increased health insurance costs, police and fire department usage and increased the strain on the criminal justice system..

The lawsuit points to previous rulings against the prescription drug distributors that have resulted in fines or suspensions, including a $44 million fine for Central Ohio-based Cardinal Health paid to the Department of Justice for a civil penalty in Florida on December 23, 2016, and a $150,000,000 civil penalty for suspicious orders against McKesson Corporation that includes a facility in Washington Court House.

ABC 6/FOX 28 has reached out to all of the companies listed in the lawsuit for comment. So far, Cardinal Health, fellow Columbus-based company Allergan, AmerisourceBergen, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals and the Healthcare Distribution Alliance have responded.

The people of Cardinal Health care deeply about opioid abuse and addiction. We believe there is an urgent need to work towards real and meaningful solutions, right now! We are actively engaged in solving this complex public health crisis and saving lives.

It is important to put into perspective Allergan’s role regarding opioids. Allergan’s two branded opioid products – Norco and Kadian – account for less than 0.08% of all opioid products prescribed in 2016 in the U.S. These products came to Allergan through legacy acquisitions and have not been promoted since 2012, in the case of Kadian, and since 2003, in the case of Norco. Allergan has a history of supporting — and continues to support — the safe, responsible use of prescription medications. This includes opioid medications, which when sold, prescribed and used responsibly, play an appropriate role in pain relief for millions of Americans.

AmerisourceBergen and other wholesale drug distributors are responsible for getting FDA-approved drugs from pharmaceutical manufacturers to DEA-registered pharmacies, based on prescriptions written by licensed doctors and health care providers. Our role in doing so is quite widespread across different therapies, with the distribution of opioid-based products constituting less than two percent of our sales.
We are dedicated to doing our part as a distributor to mitigate the diversion of these drugs without interfering with clinical decisions made by doctors, who interact directly with patients and decide what treatments are most appropriate for their care. Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of tens of thousands of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type, and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute.
We are committed to collaborating with all stakeholders, including in Columbus, Ohio, on ways to combat opioid abuse.

Teva is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines, and we recognize the critical public health issues impacting communities across the U.S. as a result of illegal drug use as well as the misuse and abuse of opioids that are available legally by prescription. To that end, we take a multi-faceted approach to this complex issue; we work to educate communities and healthcare providers on appropriate medicine use and prescribing, we comply closely with all relevant federal and state regulations regarding these medicines, and, through our R&D pipeline, we are developing non-opioid treatments that have the potential to bring relief to patients in chronic pain. Teva offers extensive resources for prescribers, patients and pharmacists regarding the responsible pain management and prevention of prescription drug abuse. Teva also collaborates closely with other stakeholders, including providers and prescribers, regulators, public health officials and patient advocates, to understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse without sacrificing patients’ needed access to pain medicine.

We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed the first FDA-approved opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.

Responsibly used opioid-based pain medicines give doctors and patients important choices to help manage the debilitating effects of chronic pain. At the same time, we recognize opioid abuse and addiction is a serious public health issue that must be addressed. We believe the allegations in lawsuits against our company are both legally and factually unfounded. Janssen has acted in the best interests of patients and physicians with regard to its opioid pain medicines, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about possible risks on every product label. According to independent surveillance data, Janssen opioid pain medicines consistently have some of the lowest rates of abuse among these medications, and since 2008 the volume of Janssen opioid products always has amounted to less than one percent of the total prescriptions written per year for opioid medications, including generics. Addressing opioid abuse will require collaboration among many stakeholders and we will continue to work with federal, state and local officials to support solutions.

Distributors are logistics companies that arrange for the safe and secure storage, transport, and delivery of medicines from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and others based on prescriptions from licensed physicians. We don’t make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines, or dispense them to consumers.
Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated.
We are ready to have a serious conversation about solving a complex problem and are eager to work with political leaders and all stakeholders in finding forward-looking solutions.

Below is the entire 25-page document.

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