Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor speaks at an April 24 press conference with local community leaders and their attorneys about litigation against opioid manufacturers.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor speaks at an April 24 press conference with local community leaders and their attorneys about litigation against opioid manufacturers.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Three communities sue drugmakers over opioids

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published April 26, 2019

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STERLING HEIGHTS/WARREN/HARRISON TOWNSHIP — David Clayton knows the importance of rescue training in Narcan, or naloxone, as a lifesaving antidote to opioid overdoses.

As the outreach coordinator for the Families Against Narcotics organization — and someone in long-term recovery from drugs, including heroin and alcohol — he is alive to explain it today.

“Narcan saved my life many times, and I always say that those people that are overdosing and being Narcanned, they are not throwaway people,” Clayton said.

“And I always tell people that the person that they were Narcanning two or three times in one week — and what’s the use, because they’re going to be back again? That person now stands in front of you to educate. It is important to know that recovery is possible, and it takes a community to bind together to really make a difference.”

Clayton’s job is now to travel the state and spread awareness about the dangers of opioid abuse. That’s why he joined officials and attorneys from three communities at the Sterling Heights Police Department for an April 24 press conference.

The press conference’s purpose was to announce that Sterling Heights, Warren and Harrison Township had filed individual lawsuit complaints in a joint effort against several drug companies that produce opioids, as well as opioid distributors and some prescribers.

Sterling Heights officials said defendant parties in the lawsuit include drugmakers Allergan, Purdue Pharma and Teva; distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp.; and some prescribers who are accused of writing many thousands of what the suit says are unneeded prescriptions.

The plaintiffs accuse the drug companies of allowing opioids to be sold and prescribed despite the addictive and destructive effects that these drugs can have.

According to the plaintiff parties, dangerous prescription opioids include OxyContin, Dilaudid and MS Contin. Sterling Heights officials said they want injunctive relief, as well as an undisclosed amount in financial damages.

At the press conference, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor blamed opioid manufacturers for “creating the epidemic that we have here” and for “pushing these drugs onto clinics, onto doctors.”

“Really, the premise of our lawsuit is holding those drug manufacturers and distributors accountable for creating what is perhaps the biggest public health crisis going on in the country right now,” he said. “What we have found is that these manufacturers and distributors are putting their profits over the people’s lives, and it has to stop.”

According to Sterling Heights officials, the state’s taxpayer-funded services in 2017 handled 8,629 admissions for prescription opioid problems, and they added that over 70% of the state’s overdose deaths were tied to opioids. They said that Macomb County was among the counties with the most opioid overdoses.

Taylor said that the lawsuits intend to make sure that the municipalities are recompensed for the cost of handling the drug crisis, whether it involves public safety or treatment.

“There is so much lost through addiction to drugs,” he said.

Attorney Rob Huth, of Kirk, Huth, Lange & Badalamenti PLC, said the litigation was filed in Macomb County Circuit Court, though he speculated that the other side might try to move the case to federal court, adding that “they don’t want our judges and our jury to decide the facts of this case.” Huth said he “will make every effort” to keep the case where it currently is. He added that he has not heard from opposing counsel yet, and does not know who that might be.

Huth cited a detail alleging prescription abuse within Macomb County — he said 85 prescriptions have been filed for every 100 people in the county.

“It’s ridiculous. What’s going on isn’t right, and our complaint — over 600 paragraphs — details the conspiracy, the abuse that has gone on with the industry,” he said.

Attorney Christopher Dore, from the Chicago-based Edelson PC law firm, shed light on the lawsuits’ scope and details. He said other communities throughout the country are putting together similar lawsuits.

“It is a national crisis, obviously, but the crisis is being dealt with in buildings like this: police stations and fire stations,” he said. “It needs to be done on a community-by-community basis.”

Dore also confirmed that he believes that drug companies knew that certain opioids should only be used for end-of-life, palliative care and not for ordinary pain relief.

“These drugs have a very limited place in the medical community. They should not be prescribed for a sprained ankle. They should not be prescribed for a sore back. These are the type of drugs that you take once and you can start having addictive qualities to them, even a few days,” he said.

“Our allegation is that these manufacturers knew this. They knew that these drugs were very powerful.”
In response, AmerisourceBergen released a statement and said it is committed to collaborating with “all stakeholders, including in Michigan,” on how to fight the abuse of opioids.
“AmerisourceBergen and other wholesale drug distributors are responsible for getting FDA-approved drugs from pharmaceutical manufacturers to DEA-registered pharmacies, based on prescriptions written by licensed doctors and health care providers,” reads the statement.
“Our role in doing so is quite widespread across different therapies, with the distribution of opioid-based products constituting less than 2% of our sales.”
The distributor added that it’s committed toward mitigating “the diversion of these drugs without interfering with clinical decisions made by doctors.”
“Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute,” the company said.

Representatives for Allergan, Purdue Pharma, Teva, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp. could not be reached for comment by press time.

Learn more about Families Against Narcotics by visiting www.familiesagainstnarcotics.org.

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