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Lorain sues over opioid epidemic

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ELYRIA — The city of Lorain filed a lawsuit Thursday against pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers and distributors for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic plaguing the county.

City Council passed legislation June 6 allowing the city to move forward with the lawsuit, which was filed late Thursday in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.

It lists numerous pharmaceutical companies as defendants including Purdue Pharma, The Purdue Frederick Co., Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Watson Laboratories Inc., Endo Health Solutions, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and Amerisourcebergen Corp.

The lawsuit says the case is about corporate greed and alleges the companies put desire for profit above the health and well-being of consumers in Lorain at the cost of the city of Lorain.

The companies knew opioid pain medications were addictive and subject to abuse, the lawsuit says, particularly when used long term for chronic pain. It also says the companies needed to create a change in public perception that would permit the use of opioids not just for acute and palliative care but also for long periods of time to treat aches and pains, lower back pain, arthritis and headaches.

This change in perception was achieved through deceptive marketing, unbranded marketing strategies that evaded regulations and consumer protection laws, research that lacked supporting evidence, and deployment of front groups and doctors to disseminate unbranded information.

The pharmaceutical companies also target vulnerable and lucrative populations like the elderly and veterans, the suit says.

“Defendants, through a sophisticated and highly deceptive and unfair marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, deepened around 2006, and continues to the present, set out to, and did, reverse the popular and medical understanding of opioids,” the suit says. “Chronic opioid therapy — the prescribing of opioids to treat chronic pain long term — is now commonplace.”

According to the suit, the marketing campaign was “wildly successful” and in 2012 doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, or enough to medicate every adult in America around the clock for a month. Opioid painkillers are now prescribed more often than blood pressure, cholesterol or anxiety medications, the suit says.

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the deceptive tactics and abundance of prescriptions came at a cost to Lorain, which has seen high numbers of overdose deaths and its police and firefighters are overloaded with calls pertaining to opioid abuse and overdose.

It may take years for the suit to reach a conclusion, but it is a battle worth fighting, Ritenauer said. He said Lorain joins the state and Dayton in filing such suits. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if more lawsuits are forthcoming from across the nation and the pharmaceutical companies are ultimately held responsible for their alleged actions much in the way tobacco companies were.

“These pharmaceuticals and distributors need to be put on notice that enough is enough,” Ritenauer said. “Profits and bottom line shouldn’t push public policy and medication in a way that is costing lives.”

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonWysochanski.



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