Wayne, Oakland counties announce lawsuit against drug manufacturers as opioid deaths rise

Lawsuit alleges drug manufacturers have made billions through health crisis

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Wayne and Oakland counties announced a joint lawsuit against drug manufacturers. (WDIV)

DETROIT - Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced Thursday they have filed a joint lawsuit against multiple drug manufacturers and distributors alleging the deceptive marketing and sale of opioids.

The dangerous, highly addictive class of painkillers, including OxyContin and Fentanyl, have caused an increasing number of deaths in Metro Detroit. The lawsuit, the first of its kind filed in Michigan, comes as opioid-related deaths continue to climb and opioid-related addiction continues to devastate communities across the country.

'Full-blown health crisis'

"This is a full-blown health crisis from which the drug companies made billions," Evans said. "People are dying and lives are being ruined by addiction as this horrible tragedy unfolds. We see the devastation every day in our hospitals, in our jails and at the morgue, and it’s getting worse. There has to be a price when corporations show such disregard for human life."

The lawsuit alleges that one of the main drivers of the nationwide opioid epidemic is drug manufacturers' deceptive marketing and sale of opioids to treat chronic pain, including their "concerted, coordinated strategy to shift the way in which doctors and patients think about pain and to encourage the widespread prescribing and use of opioids."

WATCH: Opioid Nation -- An American Epidemic

The complaint alleges that defendants intentionally misled doctors and patients about the appropriate uses, risks, safety and efficacy of prescription opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction.

The defendants in the case are Purdue Pharma, L.P., Cephalon, Inc., Endo International, PLC, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd., Teva Pharmaceuticals, USA, Inc., Insys Therapeutics, Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc.,, McKesson Corporation, Mallinckrodt PLC. and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.

Lawsuit outlines increase in opioid deaths

"The opioid industry has taken a page out of big tobacco’s playbook," Patterson said. "They utilized misleading information, marketing campaigns, and studies to convince the public that their product was safe. They put profits over people and now people are paying the price, some with their lives."

In all, more than 183,000 people died in the United States between 1999 and 2015 from overdoses directly related to prescription opioids, according to the lawsuit.

In 2016, opioid-related deaths in Wayne County alone totaled 817, up from 506 in 2015, a 61 percent increase, the lawsuit said. Opioid-related deaths in Oakland County increased 267 percent from nine deaths in 2009 to 33 deaths in 2015, the lawsuit said.

Impact on Wayne and Oakland counties

Wayne and Oakland counties have also suffered significant financial consequences that continue to grow as a result of opioid over-prescription and addiction, including increased costs for law enforcement, courts, jails, emergency and medical care services, public works, and substance abuse treatment and diversion plans, according to the lawsuit.

"There was a concerted, and tragically successful effort to get more doctors to prescribe these drugs while distorting the conversation about addiction," said Lead Counsel E. Powell Miller of The Miller Law Firm, which is representing both Wayne and Oakland counties. "As communities like Oakland and Wayne County continue to shoulder the burden of this epidemic, justice demands that the companies responsible pay for the tragedy they’ve created."

The complaint alleges that defendants, including McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, which are each among the top 15 companies in the Fortune 500, have reaped tremendous profits from these practices.

In 2011, pharmaceutical companies generated revenues of $11 billion from opioid sales alone, the lawsuit said.

The complaint was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

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