City Sues Purdue Pharma For Supplying Oxy to Local Black Market

By Paul Gaita 01/23/17

The suit details the trafficking of OxyContin from a clinic in Los Angeles to Everett, Washington, by gang members.

Array of pill bottles.

On Wednesday, January 18, the city council for Everett, Washington unanimously approved a request by Mayor Ray Stephanson to authorize a civil lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, which alleges that the drug manufacturer willingly allowed its painkiller OxyContin to be sold through suspicious medical facilities and black market distributors.

For nearly a decade, the city has struggled with high rates of both crime and overdose due to OxyContin and heroin. The lawsuit lays the blame squarely with Purdue, which, according to Mayor Stephanson, "placed profit over the health and safety of our community, and we can see the tragic results of that decision."

In the lawsuit, which was filed at Snohomish County Superior Court on January 19, the city alleges that Purdue "knowingly, recklessly, and/or negligently [supplied] OxyContin to obviously suspicious physicians and pharmacies and [enabled] the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market, including to drug rings, pill mills and other dealers for dispersal of the highly addictive pills in Everett."

The suit specifically details the trafficking of OxyContin from a clinic in Los Angeles to Everett by members of the Inland Empire Crips in 2008, which was detailed in the Los Angeles Times as part of a multi-part investigation into Purdue's business dealings.

Though Purdue was required by federal regulation to monitor and track suspicious orders and notify law enforcement of such activities, the company was well aware that the orders being processed by the LA clinic, Lake Medical, were illegitimate, yet continued to supply the clinic with pills which were then driven or flown to Everett by Crips members and then disseminated to area drug rings and dealers.

The lawsuit states that this influx of drugs has wreaked considerable havoc on both the social and economic standing of the city, which it has already spent "significant taxpayer dollars" to address, and which Mayor Stephanson notes "will be needed to deal with this crisis in the coming years."

The suit ultimately seeks to hold Purdue "accountable for their actions," and references a number of social and medical programs that will require funding to combat the continuing crisis.

No monetary amount is listed in the lawsuit, but the city has asked for damages in regard to six counts—gross negligence, negligence, public nuisance, violations of the Consumer Protection Act, unjust enrichment, and punitive damages under the laws of Connecticut, where Purdue Pharma's headquarters are located, and California, where the pills were initially ordered. 

Purdue issued a statement that read, "We share public officials' concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions. Although OxyContin accounts for only 2% of all pain-related opioid prescriptions, Purdue is an industry leader in abuse deterrence as we were the first pharmaceutical company to develop an opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties."

The Everett lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal measures taken against Pharma for its alleged role in the opioid epidemic. The state of Kentucky, the city of Chicago, as well as Orange and Santa Clara counties in California, all filed lawsuits against the manufacturer in 2014, though the California cases were dismissed the following year. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.