City joins opioid lawsuit

As it appeared in the Citizens’ Voice

BY STEVE MOCARSKY

WILKES-BARRE — The city will join other government agencies across the nation in suing drug manufacturers and wholesale distributors that officials claim are responsible for making the opioid epidemic possible by “dumping millions of dollars’ worth of prescription opioids” into the community.

According to a news release from Mayor Tony George’s office, the city is filing a lawsuit against five of the largest manufacturers of prescription opioids and their related companies, and against the country’s three largest wholesale drug distributors, claiming a racketeering conspiracy by the companies.

“We are taking this action today because the costs of this crisis have overwhelmed our ability to provide for the health, safety and welfare of our residents,” George said in the release.

George said the opioid epidemic was no accident.

“Rather, it is the result of drug makers who fail to safely and responsibly market their opioid products to doctors and patients in our city, and by wholesale distributors who breach their legal duty to monitor, identify and report suspicious activity in the size and frequency of opioid shipments to pharmacies and hospitals,” he said.

The city will claim in the suit that the manufacturing companies “pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, while falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction.”

It will also claim that the distributors “breached their legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids,” the city said.

The drug manufacturers named as defendants in the lawsuit include:

  • Perdue Pharma, which sold OxyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid, Butrans, Hysingla and Targiniq.
  • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, which sold Actiq and Fentora.
  • Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which sold Duragesic and Nucynta.
  • Endo Health Solutions, which sold Opana, Percodan, Percocet and Zydone.
  • Allergan, Activis and Watson Pharmaceuticals, which sold Kadian, Norco, and generic versions of several opioids.

The wholesale drug distributors listed as defendants in the lawsuit include McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug.

Because prescription opioids are a highly addictive substance, Congress in 1970 designed a system to control the volume of opioid pills being distributed in this country, the city noted.

“It let only a select few wholesalers gain the right to deliver opioids. In exchange, those companies agreed to do a very important job – halt suspicious orders and control against the diversion of these dangerous drugs to illegitimate uses. But in recent years they failed to do that and today the City of Wilkes-Barre is paying the price,” the city said.

Edward Ciarimboli, whose firm Fellerman & Ciarimboli is also representing Luzerne, Lackawanna and Columbia counties in similar suits, said Wilkes-Barre’s lawsuit will be filed within the next 30 days.

It will be transferred from U.S. District Court for Pennsylvania’s Middle District to an Ohio district court for consolidation with similar lawsuits.

Ciarimboli said the consolidation is similar to a class-action lawsuit, but different in that each government agency has suffered different damages.

He said the city will seek past monetary damages as well “damages in the future to combat the opioid epidemic within the City of Wilkes-Barre,” as well as punitive damages that could inflate any possible monetary award.

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