Minneapolis sues opioid manufacturers

Claiming opioid abuse has “overwhelmed” Minneapolis, City Attorney Susan Segal on June 29 filed a federal lawsuit against 17 pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.

Among the defendants named in the 163-page complaint is Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, one of the most widely used prescription opioid medications. Along with the other defendants, the drug maker is alleged to have been negligent by failing to crack down on obvious signs of misuse while using deceptive marketing practices to drive up opioid prescriptions and corporate profits.

“Unlike the crack cocaine epidemic, this drug crisis began with a corporate business plan,” Segal wrote in the complaint.

She wrote that drug manufacturers used “marketing that was pervasive as it was deceptive” to convince doctors that the risks of opioid abuse were exaggerated and outweighed by the pain-relieving benefits of the narcotics. Purdue allegedly pioneered the approach with OxyContin beginning in the 1990s.

The city is seeking punitive damages.

The complaint states that as many as one in four patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain will become addicted. The number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids was five times higher in 2017 than 1999, the complaint adds, also noting the links between prescription opioid abuse and rising use of powerful narcotics like heroin and fentanyl.

“Governmental entities, and the services they provide their citizens, have been strained to the breaking point by this public health crisis,” the complaint states.

One sign of that strain, according to the city, is a spike in emergency calls for opioid overdoses. In just the last two years, the Minneapolis Fire Department has administered about 500 doses of nolaxone, a medication used to quickly reverse the effects of an overdose.

The city lawsuit is just one of a number of lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies by state and local governments.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson on July 2 filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma in Hennepin County District Court. That lawsuit makes a similar complaint against the manufacturer, alleging deceptive marketing practices helped to fuel an epidemic of abuse. In late May, Swanson and the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy sued fentanyl maker Insys Therapeutics Inc., alleging the company’s business practices encouraged misuse of the powerful opioid.

Late last year, Hennepin County joined other Minnesota counties in a lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors.

State Legislators have also taken up the cause, but bipartisan effort to pass so-called “penny-a-pill” legislation fell short during this year’s session. It would have raised money to address the opioid epidemic by charging a 1 cent-per-pill fee to drug companies.

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