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Elyria files lawsuit against drug firms over opioid crisis

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ELYRIA — A 168-page lawsuit filed Tuesday by an Elyria attorney working for the city alleges that the practices of big drug companies rose to the level of racketeering with pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors working in concert to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Attorney Brian Balser filed the legal missive taking aim at 21 defendants starting with Purdue Pharma, the maker of the painkiller Oxycontin, which is often looked at as a major factor in the rise of opioid addictions across the country. Other defendants include Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Watson Laboratories Inc., Endo Health Solutions, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and Amerisourcebergen Corp.

Elyria joins a growing list of municipalities that want to see drug companies held accountable, even financially responsible, for the rippling effects of their drugs hitting the market, leading to addiction, overdoses and deaths.

“I think that core urban communities are hit especially hard, and it’s important for us to make a statement that we need to get to the root cause of this problem because there are tremendous human and financial losses associated with this tragic dilemma,” Mayor Holly Brinda said. “We see it every day. We see the products of addiction falling victim to opioid overdoses. But there is a greater impact than just them. Addiction impacts families, children and communities. It impacts the workplace. It sucks the resources right out of our first responders who have plenty to do anyway.”

The lawsuit says the case is about the aggressive, deceptive and illegal practices of the defendants.

Manufacturers, the lawsuit said, aggressively pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients only rarely would succumb to drug addiction. These same pharmaceutical companies also aggressively advertised to and persuaded doctors to prescribe highly addictive, dangerous opioids and turned patients into drug addicts for their own corporate profit.

In addition, distributors of the drugs intentionally and/or unlawfully breached their legal duties under state and federal law to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.

“In talking with some of the doctors I know, they have told me that there are a large number of doctors that take recommendations from drug companies,” Brinda said. “It’s important for the drug companies to feel just as or even more so responsible for this problem than the doctors. All the research points to the fact that this opioid crisis grew out of the overprescribing of prescription drugs based on bad information.”

Law Director Scott Serazin said the lawsuit will not cost the city anything up front. Balser is representing the city on a contingency basis and will receive payment only if the lawsuit is successful.

Balser said the timing of the lawsuit hits just as a hearing is set to take place in a St. Louis federal court to determine if the multiple lawsuits filed across the country should be combined into one and if so, which court jurisdiction will handle the case.

Lorain and Dayton already are in the fight for financial compensation, and the lawsuit is similar to one filed earlier this year by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

And while it may take years for the suit to reach a conclusion, it is a battle worth fighting, Brinda said.

“I do think it has become a part of our national agenda and while I know it won’t get done as soon as we would like, I think it’s better to be moving forward than doing nothing and moving further backward,” she said. “This is our way of saying the city has drawn a line in the sand, and we have to get to the root of the problem.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.



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