Salt Lake County officials announced Monday that the county is gearing up to sue pharmaceutical companies for damages caused by the recklessness and devastation of opioid addiction. They won’t be the first to do so, and it’s about time. In fact, there are over 100 counties across the nation gearing up to recover their costs associated with the epidemic, and many states have already filed.
Officials are hoping to put any monies recovered toward the costs associated with Operation Rio Grande and the funds required to pay for adequate addiction treatment and recovery services.
As Tribune reporter Jennifer Dobner reported, “On average, 24 Utahns died from prescription opioid overdose in each month of 2015, data from the Utah Department of Health show.” “From 2013 to 2015 — according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — those numbers left Utah ranked seventh nationally for overdose deaths.”
State, counties and cities across the nation are drawing their strategy straight out of the play book from the large, successful, tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s. States are salivating for a similar payout for opioids.
Utah’s own Attorney General Sean Reyes joined an effort with 40 other states in September to gather information about the crisis. His statement read, “The attorneys general seek to determine what role the opioid manufacturers and distributors may have played in creating or prolonging this epidemic and determine the appropriate course of action to help resolve this crisis.”
One of the legal theories counties and states are relying on is the claim that pharmaceutical companies marketed OxyContin as a 12-hour-relief solution, when they knew the pill would not last for 12 hours. States claim the misleading advertising caused people who took the pills to suffer withdrawals and addiction.
Opioid dependence has become a pivotal issue in Utah. The DEA recently started a new three-part program – DEA 360 – to focus on enforcement, education and prevention. And The Department of Health and Human Services announced in September it would award up to $175,000 to 11 health centers across Utah to increase access to substance abuse and mental health treatment.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes said on Monday that he hopes the state joins Salt Lake County’s effort against the drug companies. It would be a safe bet for Reyes to sign on now.
We know that Big Pharma used aggressive marketing tactics to sell Oxycodone and similar medications to medical professionals. Whether that reaches a level of criminal behavior or civil liability is for the courts to decide.
So they should decide.