US city takes drug company to court over opioid crisis

pharmafile | March 16, 2017 | News story | Medical Communications OxyContin, opioid, opioid crisis 

The opioid crisis in North America continues to rumble on, ruining lives and causing untold damage to communities. One city, in Washington state, has taken action to hold a company responsible for the difficulties its community is facing with rising levels of painkiller abuse.

Everett, a city north of Seattle in Washington, with a population of 108,000, has accused of Purdue Pharma of failing to adequately prevent the supply of OxyContin into the black market. Everett has alleged that Purdue Pharma supplied OxyContin to suspicious pharmacies and physicians, allowing the opioid painkillers to spread into the hands of those who may abuse them.

The behaviour of the pharma company is suggested to have seen a major spike, in 2008, of addiction to opioids that then resulted in an increase of those dying from overdoses. After this period the drug was reformulated but this left those addicted seeking an alternative to feed their addiction, which then saw resulting spike of overdoses of people dying from heroin use.

The city has had to spend millions of dollars attempting to combat the crisis, including buttressing addiction treatment centres, mental health support lines and regular street patrols to combat the problems caused by addiction on a ground level.

Purdue Pharma, for its part, released a statement on its website: “While we are deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication, this lawsuit paints a completely flawed and inaccurate portrayal of events that led to the crisis in Everett, Washington. The suggestion that, but for Purdue failing to report its concerns about suspicious activity to law enforcement, the DEA would have shut down Lake Medical sooner and stopped criminal diversion of 1.1 million pills to Everett, WA, is contradicted by publicly available court documents that were made available to NBC News while they were reporting this story”.

The case is likely to be watched around the country by the many other cities facing their own opioid crises. On Purdue Pharma’s part, it will be worried that there may be a repeat of a case in 2007 where it was found guilty misleading regulators, doctors and patients about the risk of addiction and abuse. In that case, the company was forced to shell out $600 million in fines and payments.

Ben Hargreaves

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