LA sues opioid drug makers and sellers, joining hundreds of others

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Los Angeles Thursday joined hundreds of other municipalities in suing opioid manufacturers for their alleged roles in contributing to the nationwide addiction crisis. City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a federal suit, adding L.A. to the list of local governments that have gone to court against the industry in the Northern District of Ohio. 

The L.A. suit names six drug manufacturers and three wholesale distributors. It alleges the manufacturers' representatives misled patients and prescribers about the risks and addictive nature of opioids, and that the distributors neglected to report suspicious drug orders.

"The marketing practices that we’ve alleged, the failure to report that we’ve alleged, the failure to take counter-measures that we’ve alleged have created a public nuisance in our city," said City Attorney Mike Feuer.

The hundreds of cases have not been combined into one suit; rather, they're all being handled as multidistrict litigation in the same court.

L.A. wants to see companies, including Purdue Pharma and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, stop deceptive marketing practices, start reporting suspicious orders and make significant amends for the damage already done, Feuer said.

The trade organization Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America declined to comment on specific litigation, but noted the industry has pushed for opioids to be prescribed for only seven days at a time. Association representatives say drug manufacturers are working to develop better non-opioid pain killers and drug-assisted treatment.

"The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders," said John Parker, Senior Vice President of Healthcare Distribution Alliance, the industry organization that represents AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Parker continued to question the logic of suing drug distributors.

"Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation," said Parker.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 115 people die each day in the U.S. from an opioid overdose. L.A. had 353 opioid overdose deaths in 2016.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Feuer for his announcement. Both men acknowledged that that L.A. County has lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose than other parts of the country.

Still, "this affects us all and Los Angeles is not immune," said Garcetti.

"More people died in L.A. County from overdoses last year from opioids than were people were killed in the city of Los Angeles," he said. "This is a killer on our streets, and for those lives that haven’t been taken, essentially, for many families they feel they have been."

While the city did not have an exact dollar amount in damages opioids have cost, the mayor said they divert city resources.

"It’s expensive for our fire department. It’s expensive for our emergency rooms, our paramedics, our police officers, our health workers, our courts, our jails are overwhelmed by this epidemic," said Garcetti. "And there is a cost, money we would rather put into promoting the health of our constituents."

This story has been updated.