County sues pharmaceutical companies

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SANTA CRUZ — The County of Santa Cruz has filed a complaint against several pharmaceutical corporations, alleging that they are complicit in fueling the national opioid crisis.

The 140-page complaint accuses opioid manufacturing companies of racketeering, negligence, fraud, false advertising and creating a public nuisance.

According to the complaint, drug manufacturers downplayed the risks of prescription opioids in order to increase sales.

The complaint further alleges that manufacturers and distributors failed to report suspicious sales as required by state and federal law. In doing so, the defendants greatly expanded their potential market by millions of patients while leaving local communities to pay the price for the epidemic.

“The consequences of these drug companies' negligent and fraudulent actions are all around us," Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold said. "By repeatedly ignoring and downplaying risks, they have created an unparalleled opioid crisis impacting families and communities across America. It is time to hold them accountable for their actions."

Since 1999, more than 200,000 people have died of overdoses from legal prescription opioids alone – roughly the equivalent to the population of the city of Reno, Nev., said Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin. That figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of additional victims who overdosed on illicit drugs after transitioning from doctor-prescribed opioids, Hoppin said.

In 2016 alone, 35 people died from opioid-related overdoses in Santa Cruz County, where the local mortality rate from opioid overdoses is nearly triple the California statewide age-adjusted rate, Hoppin said.

In that same year, there were more than 188,000 opioid prescriptions in Santa Cruz County – enough to medicate every man, woman and child for six weeks continuously.

In response, the county has reduced unnecessary opioid prescriptions and increased access to substance use disorder treatment, and has trained local police officers to use the overdose-reversal medicine Naloxone, which has saved more than 200 local lives over three years.

Santa Cruz County joins hundreds of local governments across the U.S., including a majority of California counties, in filing suit against the opioid manufacturers and distributors. The suit is represented by a team of law firms led by Robbins Geller Gudman & Dowd, which also represents the City of Los Angeles in similar litigation and is a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the Nationwide Multi-District Litigation currently pending in Ohio.

The 140-page complaint names such giants as Purdue Pharma, Cephalon Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Insys Therapeutics Inc., Mallinckrodt, AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.

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