Indianapolis sues drug companies for opioid crisis

The city of Indianapolis is making good on its promise to sue some of the country’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors and is seeking compensation for their role in the worsening opioid crisis that is “ravaging” the city.

In a 177-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on Tuesday, the city and Marion County demanded a jury trial and sought multiple forms of relief, including compensation for the past and future costs of “abat(ing) the ongoing public nuisance caused by the opioid epidemic.” The city also seeks damages for the costs of providing medical and therapeutic care, law enforcement resources and other similar costs related to combatting the growing opioid problem.

More than a dozen companies are named as defendants including Indianapolis-based Cardinal Health, Inc., and Purdue Pharm, the producer of OxyContin.  

The complaint alleges the city and county spend millions of dollars every year to combat the epidemic created by the defendants. Meanwhile through an alleged false advertising campaign that created “a false perception of the safety and efficacy of opioids in the minds of medical professionals and members of the public,” the defendant drug companies have made “blockbuster profits,” including $8 billion in revenue in 2012 alone, the complaint claims.

The city also alleges the defendants had a duty to report and stop suspicious orders for opioid prescriptions, yet failed to do so, contributing to the epidemic.

“The rising numbers of persons addicted to opioids have led to increased health care costs and a dramatic increase in social problems, including drug abuse and diversion and the commission of criminal acts to obtain opioids throughout the United States, including Indianapolis and Marion County,” the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint. “Public health and safety throughout the United States, including Indianapolis and Marion County, has been significantly and negatively affected due to widespread inappropriate use of the drugs manufactured and distributed by defendants.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced his plans to take legal action against the drug companies in October, promising a “robust lawsuit” similar to those that have already been filed by several other government entities.

“Last winter, we set Indianapolis on a course to comprehensively reform our criminal justice system,” Hogsett said in a Tuesday statement. “Throughout that process, we have heard first-hand accounts of the devastation opioid abuse can wreck as it tears apart families and take(s) the lives of Indianapolis residents. We must do all we can to combat this epidemic of addiction while holding those accountable who have contributed to this crisis and caused such a prolific drain on taxpayer dollars.”

But the distributors are already fighting back against the allegations against them in the city's lawsuit, saying it "defies common sense" to place all blame for the number of opioid prescriptions on them. John Parker, senior vice president of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, also said Wednesday that placing sole responsibility with the distributors shows a lack of "understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated." The alliance is a national trade organization that is representing distributors including McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, which are each named as defendants in the suit.

"As distributors, we understand the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country," Parker said in a Wednesday statement. "We are deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution — but we aren't willing to be scapegoats.

"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," Parker continued. "We don't make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines, or dispense them to customers."

The distributors are prepared to work with political leaders and stakeholders to find "forward-looking solutions," Parker said.

Tuesday's lawsuit was filed on behalf of the city and county by Indianapolis firm Cohen & Malad, which also called on the court to require the defendants to establish an “’abatement fund’ for the purposes of abating the opioid nuisance.”

“It’s time for the companies that profited to the tune of billions of dollars off opioids (to) be held accountable for the severe harm they’ve caused Indianapolis and Marion County,” Cohen & Malad managing partner Irwin Levin said in a statement.

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