CLEVELAND, Ohio — Officials in Lake County have filed a lawsuit against more than a dozen drug manufacturers and distributors amid an opioid epidemic that has caused thousands of deaths across the state.
The 265-page lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Lake County Common Pleas Court, claims drug companies engaged in deceptive marketing of painkillers, despite knowing the dangers the drugs could cause.
The suit alleges drug companies were acting out of greed when they allowed doctors to over-prescribe powerful opioids. Such tactics led to drug overdoses and children being born dependent on painkillers, and caused an increase in the number of resources Lake County needed to direct toward helping orphaned children whose parents were killed by overdoses or arrested for drug-related offenses, the lawsuit claims.
“Defendants’ deceptive and and unfair marketing campaign deprived county residents and their doctors of the ability to make informal medical decisions, and, instead caused important, sometimes, life-or-death decisions to made based not on science, but on hype,” Lake County officials said in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit names some of the largest and most powerful companies in the pharmaceutical industry as defendants. Purdue Pharma LP, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, McKesson Corporation and Cardinal Health are named in the suit.
The lawsuit asks a court to make the companies pay Lake County for costs related to the epidemic, “all legal equitable relief” and attorney fees.
Lake County’s suit is one of several filed against drug companies across the state. Cuyahoga County officials previously filed a lawsuit that accuses drug companies of intentionally misleading the public about the dangers of opioids to sell more painkillers, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed over the summer against some of the same manufacturers.
Lake County’s lawsuit says that from 2006 to 2016, drug companies distributed 900,000 grams of opioids throughout the county. From 2009 to 2011, companies nearly distributed enough prescription painkillers for every man, woman and child in Lake County, according to the lawsuit.
Officials nationwide have said prescription drug abuse is inextricably linked to heroin and fentanyl abuse, and the opioid epidemic that claimed thousands of lives last year in Ohio. In 2016, more than 4,050 people died of unintentional drug overdoses across the state, with many of those being caused by opioids.
Opioid overdose deaths nearly tripled last year in Lake County, statistics show. The coroner’s office attributed 72 deaths last year to heroin, fentanyl or a combination of the two drugs. That’s up from the 28 people killed by those drugs in 2015 and the 27 who died in 2014, the coroner’s office said.
Statistics show there were 77 drug overdose deaths in Lake County through Tuesday, but that total includes deaths caused by opioids and other drugs such as cocaine, the coroner’s office said.
A Cleveland federal judge will preside over 64 lawsuits filed against drug companies by cities and counties across the country. Of the 64 cases, 16 originated from Ohio and include lawsuits filed by the cities of Cincinnati and Dayton. It also includes lawsuits filed by two Northeast Ohio cities, Parma and Lorain.
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