Purdue Pharma Seeks to Dismiss Oxy Lawsuit by Washington City

By Paul Gaita 03/24/17

The lawsuit alleges that Purdue was part of a scheme to push Oxy onto the black market with the help of gang members.

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On March 20, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the city of Everett, Washington, which alleged that the company was responsible for the twin waves of crime and opioid overdose which has plagued the city for nearly a decade.

The lawsuit, requested by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and filed in Snohomish County Superior Court in January 2017, claims that as far back as 2009, Purdue was aware that illegitimate orders for OxyContin were being filed at a clinic in Los Angeles, which then provided the pills to members of the Inland Empire Crips gang, which transported them to Everett for black market sale there.

By taking no action on these sales, the suit alleged that the influx of drugs took a sizable toll on the socioeconomic fabric of the city, and sought damages from Pharma on six different counts, including gross negligence and violations of the Consumer Protection Act.

Purdue denied the allegations and noted in the motion, which was filed in a U.S. District Court in Seattle, that it was not responsible for the city's woes. "There is no basis in law for a municipality to bring such an action against a pharmaceutical manufacturer," the company wrote in the motion. "The city's complaint fails to state a claim due to multiple, independent legal failings."

Purdue also dismissed the city's claim that its alleged failure to report the OxyContin orders in Los Angeles was linked to the criminal activity in Everett, which it described as "several layers removed from the 'drug abuse, addiction and crime' attributable to illegal drug trafficking in Everett."

Purdue's motion also addressed the financial toll shouldered by the city due to the drug trade and related criminal activity, by stating that municipal costs incurred by a city do not constitute a "cognizable form of injury." It also noted that the city's claims were "time-barred" because the majority predated a statute that set a four-year limit for such claims.

The manufacturer summed up its position in a statement on its website which read, "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."

Everett legislators responded with a statement released on March 21 that read, "The city and our outside legal counsel have received Purdue's response to our lawsuit, and we look forward to presenting our arguments to the court refuting Purdue's position. The city remains committed to holding Purdue accountable for allowing OxyContin to be funneled into the black market, causing the current opioid crisis in Everett."

Should Everett succeed in its efforts, it would be the latest in a string of legal setbacks incurred by Purdue in relation to OxyContin. In 2007, the company and three executives pled guilty in federal court to criminal charges of misleading claims about OxyContin's addictive properties, which resulted in fines of $600 million.

A win could also embolden other cities and states to issue their own suits against the company, which in the past has faced legal action from the state of Kentucky, the city of Chicago and two California counties.

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

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