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Bucks County Sues Drug Makers Over Opioid Crisis

Bucks County sued major manufacturers and distributors of prescription drugs on Tuesday in an effort to fight addiction and recover damages from the costs of the opioid crisis.

Overdose fatalities in Bucks County reached 232 last year, an 89 percent increase over 2015, according to the 159-page civil complaint filed in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas.

Among the defendants are 14 corporate entities that include the largest producers of prescription opioids – led by Purdue Pharma, creator of OxyContin, a drug which has claimed roughly 30 percent of the market for analgesic painkillers and annual national sales of up to $3.1 billion.

Also named as defendants are three corporate distributors that control up to 85 percent of the market for prescription opioid distribution in the United States.

The sole individual defendant is John Kapoor, founder and former CEO of Insys Therapeutics, Inc., manufacturer of Subsys, a fentanyl-based spray medication. Kapoor is among six Insys corporate officials charged in a federal racketeering indictment in Boston for allegedly paying kickback to doctors for prescribing Subsys.

The lawsuit alleges that manufacturers misled the public about the dangers of prescription opioids, and that the defendants responsible for distributing opioids into the community disregarded their obligation to monitor distribution and halt any “suspicious sales” to protect the community from an exorbitant flood of opioids.

“A pharmaceutical manufacturer should never place its desire for profits above the health and well-being of its customers,” the complaint states. “A pharmaceutical manufacturer has a legal duty to tell the truth when marketing its drugs and to ensure that its marketing claims are supported by science and medical evidence. A pharmaceutical distributor of controlled substances has a legal duty to conduct its business lawfully and carefully and in a manner that does not irresponsibly and unreasonably saturate a community with opioids.”

Bucks County has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic. It is estimated that 80 percent of street-level heroin users in the United States began their addictions through the use of prescription pain medication. The fallout here has been staggering.

The collateral costs of dealing with such widespread addiction have left the county strapped on many fronts, say officials.

This array of financial hardships includes, but is not limited to:

  • A $20 million prison expansion to accommodate the exploding inmate population, much of it addiction-related
  • $4 million in annual outsourcing costs to house Bucks County inmates in other prisons because of addiction-fueled overcrowding
  • Hiring two additional Coroner’s Office employees to handle the influx of opioid-related deaths, and paying for burial of a significant number of unclaimed corpses of overdose victims
  • Creation of a six-detective, $900,000-per-year Drug Strike Force by the District Attorney’s Office to help fight the opioid crisis
  • A 66.5 percent increase in opioid-related 911 emergency calls since 2012, with each call taking about 30 minutes to resolve, at a cost of about $30 per hour
  • Rising county insurance payments resulting from unwarranted and potentially dangerous chronic opioid therapy for employees, retirees and dependents – and frequent ensuing payments for addiction-related treatment
  • NARCAN purchases and training
  • Increased expenses and strain on police, fire and EMS personnel
  • Public health training, and recovery programs and campaigns
  • Rehabilitation clinics, addiction treatment centers and suicide prevention services
  • Services for infants born with addictions and young children traumatized by addiction in their homes
  • Diversion of the Fire Marshal to inspect foster-care homes of children removed from drug-infested households
  • Diversion of public works employees and the Fire Marshal to bring “sober houses” up to code and safe for addicted residents
  • Lost productivity of county workers afflicted with addiction-related issues or who are dealing with loved ones with addictions
  • Increased law enforcement and court costs including overtime, anti-gang activity, toxicology tests and other drug- and addiction-fueled costs
  • Skyrocketing costs of child abuse investigations. The county spent almost $11.5 million on such investigations, many of them addiction-related, an increase of 440 percent since 2004

District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said his office’s prosecutions “are dominated by drug-fueled crimes. This lawsuit, frankly, is about accountability.”

Bucks joins many communities in this region and across the nation that have filed such legal actions against the opioid industry, Commissioners Chairman Robert G. Loughery noted.

“I believe the more that this pressure grows, that we will be victorious at some point,” he said. “How long that’s going to take, I can’t tell you. But doing nothing isn’t really an option for us.”

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