Ohio Cities Sue Big Pharma Over Opioid Crisis, Says State Lawsuit Doesn’t Go Far Enough

By Kelly Burch 06/08/17

Dayton and Lorain city officials want both drug makers and doctors to take responsibility for their roles in the opioid crisis.

hand reaching for a prescription pill bottle

Two Ohio cities are launching their own lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, saying that the state’s lawsuit, announced last week, does not go far enough. 

“The big drug companies have stuck profits in their wallets, and they have passed the bill on to us,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said during a news conference, according to The Toledo Blade. “This crisis has gone on for far too long. We’ve gotten too little help from the state. Even the state’s lawsuit does not go far enough to hold responsible all the bad actors that created this epidemic.”

The Dayton lawsuit was filed on Monday (June 5). That night, the city council in Lorain, Ohio voted to take similar action.

Last week, the state of Ohio filed suit against five drug manufacturers, alleging that the companies downplayed the risks associated with opioid painkillers. Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a unit of Johnson & Johnson), Endo Health Solutions, Cephalon (a unit of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries), and Allergan were all named in the lawsuit filed May 31. 

“We believe the evidence will show that these companies got thousands and thousands of Ohioans—our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our kids—addicted to opioid pain medications, which has all too often led to use of the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said at the time. 

While the state lawsuit named five manufacturers, the Dayton lawsuit names additional manufacturers and individual doctors accused of over-promoting opioids. Actavis, Watson Pharmaceuticals, McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen are named in the Dayton suit—as are doctors Russell Portenoy of New York, Scott Fishman of California, and Perry Fine and Lynn Webster, both of Utah.

“The claims are based on suspect trade practices, consumer-sales practices in which they marketed the products and solicited physicians to write prescriptions,” said Margaret Metzinger, a lawyer for the city of Dayton. “They were marketed overall as not being addictive and with having no limits on the amount a person could take without harmful side effects.”

Dayton Mayor Whaley says she chose to be more aggressive with her suit than the state’s attorney general. “I think you need to sue all the drug companies, not some of them, and sue the drug distributors,” she said, pointing out that pharmaceutical companies are now profiting from the problem they created by selling naloxone. “It’s a racket.”

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer called on other Ohio cities to take similar measures. “Cities big and small across Ohio are struggling to serve our citizens with the increasing number of accidental overdoses. It is time that the companies and distributers who started this epidemic take responsibility for the communities that have been ravaged as a result of the medications they produce,” said the mayor.

“It is my sincere hope that mayors across the state will join Mayor Whaley and me as we pursue justice for Ohio communities.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.