County files lawsuit against opioid marketers, manufacturers and distributors

WARREN — A 270-page lawsuit against 25 entities connected to the opioid pain pill industry was filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court by attorneys representing Trumbull County commissioners.

The suit, filed Monday in Judge W. Wyatt McKay’s court, targets manufacturers, marketers and distributors of opioid pain pills — including Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Corp.

“This case is about one thing: corporate greed. Defendants put their desire for profits above the health and well-being of (county) consumers at the cost of the plaintiff,” the suit states.

Opioid addiction has led to an increase in costs for Trumbull County’s justice system, children’s services and health care, the suit states.

The crisis of addiction to opioid-based drugs has penetrated many communities that are struggling to gain control of the issue, while others like the defendants have profited, said Frank Gallucci, with Plevin & Gallucci Co. He is one of several attorneys from several law firms involved in the suit and in the same group of attorneys that have filed similar suits in other states and other Ohio common pleas courts, including in Cuyahoga County.

The suit claims the defendants knew for years that prolonged use of opioids reduces their effectiveness, leading to higher doses, which increases the risk of addiction. The defendants knew of studies that showed the pills shouldn’t be used for more than 90 days and should have been given to people in managed settings for acute pain, not chronic pain in a hospital, to reduce the risk of addiction, the suit states.

But, “in order to expand the market for opioids and realize blockbuster profits, defendants needed to create a sea change in the medical and public perception that would permit the use of opioids not just for acute and palliative care, but also for long periods of time to treat more common aches and pains — like lower back pain, arthritis and headaches,” the suit states.

Using a “sophisticated and highly deceptive and unfair marketing campaign” in the late 1990s and 2000s, the defendants got the medical community on board with long-term opioid prescriptions by misleading doctors with materials that lied about the risks and benefits of long-term opioid use, the suit states.

“It was the defendants’ marketing — and not any medical breakthrough — that rationalized prescribing opioids for chronic pain and and opened the floodgates of opioid use and abuse. The result has been catastrophic,” the suit states.

The efforts led to an addiction crisis that has cost Trumbull County an “exorbitant” amount of money over the years, the suit states, and set the stage for a roaring street drug addiction to heroin and its synthetic cousins to take hold.

The funds the lawsuit could generate could go to support the increased costs some county departments have dealt with because of the number of people addicted in Trumbull County, which is seventh in the state for accidental drug overdose rates.

“For too long, these manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medications have really promoted and touted them without properly explaining the dangers of those pain medications, which as we know now, leads to addiction and overdose deaths. I think the onus is on us to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for the families that have lost people, and those who have gone through the scourge of addiction,” Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said. “These medications were glamorized and promoted without accountability and we hope that not only can we get reimbursed on services that have cost the taxpayers money, but hold them accountable as well.”

The Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office, drug task forces, courts, the jail and children services are some of the departments that face the crisis every day and could stand to benefit from any extra cash the suit might generate.

The suit seeks a jury trial and accuses the defendants of fraud, racketeering, refusing to heed warnings from the Drug Enforcement Agency, negligence, corrupt practices, creating a public nuisance and abuse of their positions and licenses to make money.