The Everett City Council approved Mayor Ray Stephanson’s call to authorize a civil lawsuit against Purdue Pharma in January.
Stephanson alleges that the drugmaker knowingly supplied suspicious doctors and pharmacies with OxyContin to increase its profits and enabled the diversion of its prescription drugs into the local illegal drug trade.
“There is clear evidence that Purdue ignored their responsibility to stop the diversion of OxyContin into the black market, directly leading to the heroin crisis on our streets today,” Stephanson said in a press release. “Their drive for profit caused this epidemic, which has overwhelmed our treatment and emergency systems. We are taking a stand and holding Purdue accountable for their actions.”
Everett, a working-class city about an hour north of Seattle, has been severely impacted by the opioid epidemic.
As mayor of Everett, Stephanson has implemented an aggressive plan to combat the opioid epidemic. The city increased police presence, brought in social workers to ride with officers and worked to provide permanent housing to the chronically homeless. These steps aimed to reduce the number of individuals abusing opioids in Everett.
Despite the city’s efforts, opioids and crime related to drugs have created lasting problems for Everett.
“Our community has been significantly damaged, and we need to be made whole,” Stephanson told CBS News.
Everett officials say that responding to the opioid crisis has cost the city millions of dollars already, and the cost is likely to increase.
Hil Kaman, the city’s public health and safety director, says that Everett is limited in what it can do to combat the growing problem. In a press release, he said the community is overwhelmed by the epidemic, and it currently lacks resources needed to treat those suffering from addiction.
Stephanson says that Purdue’s “drive for profit” caused the crisis that is now straining the city’s treatment centers and emergency responders. The lawsuit does not specify the amount of money the city is seeking, but Stephanson says the city will determine an amount in the months to come.
“Purdue is liable for its intentional, reckless, and/or negligent misconduct and should not be allowed to evade responsibility for its callous and unconscionable practices,” Everett’s city lawyers wrote in a complaint in state Superior Court.
Purdue Pharma says the allegations of the lawsuit are untrue and paint an unfair picture of the company’s intentions.
The company issued a statement saying that it looked forward to “presenting the facts in court.”
According to CBS News, Purdue said it is deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of its medications. The drugmaker added that it is the industry leader in developing abuse-deterrent medications and that its products make up less than 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions in the United States.
This is not the first time Purdue has faced legal challenges in relation to the distribution and marketing of opioid medications.
The company and its executives were required to pay $630 million in legal penalties to the federal government for knowingly understating OxyContin’s addiction risk in 2007. That year, the company also settled lawsuits with Washington and other states that sued Purdue for failing to accurately describe the drug’s addiction risk.
A 2016 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that Purdue monitored doctors and pharmacies the company suspected of distributing pills illegally for more than a decade. But the company did not always alert authorities or attempt to stop the flow of drugs.
In 2009, a Purdue sales manager was tasked to investigate a clinic writing an unusually high amount of OxyContin prescriptions. The investigation revealed the clinic was actually a front for a criminal drug ring. After visiting the clinic, the sales manager told her superiors to alert the Drug Enforcement Administration because she was convinced the clinic was diverting OxyContin to the black market.
Despite the sales manager’s report, Purdue did not alert the proper law enforcement entities until the clinic was closed and the drug ring’s leaders were indicted. By then, more than 1 million pills had slipped into the illegal drug trade.
The Times story prompted Everett officials to begin looking into what legal action they could take against Purdue. The city then hired a Seattle law firm to handle the case.
“We know this is a bold action we are taking, but it is the right thing to do,” Stephanson told the Los Angeles Times.