Upshur County is suing more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in opioid addiction, a problem taxing the resources of cities and states across the country.
The lawsuit announced Wednesday makes the East Texas county the first governmental body in the state to sue over opioids. Cities such as Cincinnati and Louisville filed lawsuits earlier this year. So have four counties in New York, two in California and a handful in other states.
At least six states have also filed claims so far, including New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina, according to Bloomberg News.
The Upshur County case was filed Sept. 29 in the U.S. District Court in Marshall. It names pharmaceutical giants such as Purdue Pharma, Johnson and Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical, Abbott Laboratories, Allergan, Pfizer, and McKesson as defendants, among others.
The lawsuit alleges that the companies used deceptive marketing practices to tout the benefits of opioids for chronic pain, including using third parties who were seemingly independent but were actually funded by the companies.
Opioids are in a class of medications that include illegal substances like heroin, but also legally available prescription pain relievers, like brand names OxyContin and Vicodin, and drugs like codeine and morphine. Their addictive capabilities have resulted in what has been deemed an opioid crisis in the U.S.
As many as 1 in 3 patients who are prescribed an opioid for chronic pain ultimately misuse the pills, and in 2015 more than 33,000 Americans overdosed on the drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The crisis has drawn national and local attention.
In 2010, Texas introduced “pill mill” legislation that is attributed to a clinically significant reduction in opioid dose, volume, prescriptions and pills dispensed in the state.
Pharmacies in Texas and other states began offering the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone without prescriptions. The federal government has awarded millions to states to help them curb high rates of opioid overuse. The Teamsters union protested the executive pay given to pharmaceutical company executives, saying the distributors aggravate the epidemic.
Upshur County is being represented by Dallas firm Simon Greenstone Panatier. The firm also represents six other counties in East Texas, and additional lawsuits are expected, a news release said.
“While the pharmaceutical industry pulls in huge profits, local governments are bearing the weight of these industry marketing and sales tactics, having to find a way to pay for increased health care and community services, such as courts, child services, treatment centers and law enforcement,” said Jeffrey Simon, co-founder of the firm, in the release.
Some experts say litigation against Big Pharma over the opioid crisis could rival similar cases against Big Tobacco in the ’90s, which ended with attorneys generals from 46 states winning a settlement of more than $200 billion from large tobacco companies over the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.
Texas has not yet said whether it will sue pharmaceutical companies, but Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined a bipartisan group of attorneys general in a multistate investigation into the role the drugmakers may have played in the opioid crisis.
Written by Sabriya Rice, Business of Health Care Reporter
Assistant Business Editor Arnessa M. Garrett contributed to this report.
Courtesy of The Dallas Morning News