Maricopa County Attorney’s Office files suit against opioid manufacturers

Jan 2, 2019, 6:33 PM | Updated: Jan 3, 2019, 7:30 pm
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)...
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office filed a civil lawsuit last month against more than a dozen opioid manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue Pharma, the creator of prescription painkiller OxyContin.

According to the 170-page lawsuit, more than 400,000 people have died from opioid overdoses nationally since 2000.

The suit alleges that the opioid epidemic is due to these companies’ “reckless promotion and distribution of potent opioids for chronic pain while deliberately downplaying the significant risks of addiction and overdose.”

Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, a narcotic that was much more powerful than previous prescription painkillers, in 1996.

Although the company claimed extended-release technology prevented the pills from being misused, those protections could easily be circumvented.

According to the suit, the company paid “hundreds of millions of dollars” to market and promote the drug and false claims about its safety and efficacy while ignoring its potential danger.

The suit also claims the defendants shirked their duties to monitor and report the drugs’ usage and evaded regulation concerning distribution of large shipments of opioids.

“Attorneys for Maricopa County have been considering a lawsuit for quite some time as they watched the public costs mount related to the opioid epidemic and really started to take a hard look at the causes behind that epidemic and what responsibilities might lie with the pharmaceutical industry,” Fields Moseley, Maricopa County communications director, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

He said three years ago, the county’s medical examiner reported a 20 percent spike in deaths.

At the time, the county, which represents over two-thirds of the state’s population, was unsure of the cause, but it has since been confirmed the increase was related to opioids, Moseley said.

“A lot of people are suffering from the opioid epidemic — not just those who are addicted to drugs, but also the family and friends who have to deal with the fallout,” he said.

According to Moseley, attorneys believe the companies’ conduct has violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, constituted public nuisance and negligence under Arizona law and has unjustly enriched drug companies.

The attorneys are asking for a jury trial in this case and have not specified what damages they are seeking.

Other state and local governments in at least 23 states have filed similar suits against opioid manufacturers.

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Maricopa County Attorney’s Office files suit against opioid manufacturers