LOS ANGELES (CN) – Los Angeles sued nine pharmaceutical companies in federal court Thursday, claiming the fraudulent and negligent business practices of Big Pharma led to an explosion of the opioid crisis in the city.
The 165-page lawsuit states companies intentionally mislead doctors and patients about the appropriate uses, risks, and safety of opioid drugs and downplayed the high risk of addiction.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti called the opioid crisis a “war that has claimed too many casualties” in communities across the city.
Opioids, Garcetti said, are a “killer on our streets” and prevent homeless people from transitioning into support services and housing.
LA City Attorney Mike Feuer said companies exaggerated the benefits of casually using opioid drugs to treat chronic pain instead of stressing short-term use.
Marketing for opioid drugs was “false and deceptive” and was used by companies to “normalize aggressive prescribing of opioid drugs” for patients with various kinds of pain, according to the city’s lawsuit.
“The public’s mind has been poisoned,” Feuer said.
He said Big Pharma’s marketing practices were “reckless and irresponsible” and manufacturers of opioids are “driving the opioid epidemic” and should be held accountable.
False messages about the safety, addictiveness and efficacy were disseminated by infiltrating professional medical societies and crafting and influencing industry guidelines. “Pro-opioid [studies were disseminated] under the guise of science and truth,” the complaint says.
According to a February 2018 report by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, opioid manufacturers paid nearly $9 million between 2012 and 2017 to advocacy groups and professional societies operating in the area of opioids policy.
Feuer said the city may consider filing a separate lawsuit targeting doctors who overprescribe opioids or write prescriptions in exchange for cash. He did not offer a timetable for future litigation.
The city’s lawsuit will become part of a multidistrict litigation consolidated in Ohio federal court.
Prescription opioids include brand name pain medications OxyContin, Opana, Subsys, Fentora and Duragesic as well as generics like oxycodone, methadone and fentanyl.
According to the California Department of Public Health, 23.6 million Californians were prescribed opioids in 2016 and 2,031 deaths occurred as a result of overdoses. Of those, 4.6 million prescriptions and 407 opioid-related overdose deaths occurred in Los Angeles County.
Drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two-thirds of those deaths involved a prescription or illegal opioid drug.
Up to 56 percent of patients receiving long-term prescription opioids will become addicted, and one in five people who take an opioid longer than 10 days will still be taking painkillers a year later.
Prescription opioid overdose-related hospitalizations, drug treatment and emergency room visits in Los Angeles County have also steadily risen over the years.
The cost of opioid-related hospitalizations in Los Angeles County rose from $399 million in 2006 to $673 million in 2013, according to the complaint.
Garcetti said it’s becoming increasingly expensive for firefighters, paramedics and other departments to respond to the growing opioid epidemic.
He touted the Los Angeles Fire Department’s “sober unit,” which picks up homeless individuals living on Skid Row who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and connects them to sobering centers.
The yearlong pilot program, launched in January, aims to reduce the number of drug and alcohol-addicted homeless people in emergency rooms and jails.
Named defendants include opioid drug manufacturing companies Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Insys Therapeutics, and Mallinckrodt.
Three wholesale distributors – McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen Corporation – are also named as defendants.
The city seeks an injunction barring “further false marketing” by drug companies and a court order requiring them to report “suspicious orders” by doctors and hospitals.
Feuer said the city also seeks attorney fees and damages for costs incurred in responding to the opioid crisis.