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City sues opioid manufacturers and distributors over cost of addiction

The lawsuit says manufacturers misrepresented the drugs’ safety and efficacy, and distributors oversupplied the pills.

The city is suing opioid manufacturers and distributors

The city is suing opioid manufacturers and distributors Purdue, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen over the costs of addressing addiction, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Photo Credit: iStock

New York City has sued manufacturers and distributors of prescription painkillers for a half-billion dollars, the city’s estimated cost in tackling opioid addiction and death, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

The 252-page lawsuit is among several — including one filed in 2016 on behalf of Suffolk County — in which municipalities have taken large prescription-drugmakers to civil court. The painkiller litigation comes two weeks after the city sued five global oil companies for the costs of protecting New Yorkers from climate change.

The drug manufacturers named in the latest suit include Purdue, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen, according to court papers.

“Who’s getting away with bloody murder right now? The big pharmaceutical companies,” de Blasio said Tuesday at an event in the Bronx held to announce the suit. “The people who created the crisis are getting away with it.”

Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, the de Blasio administration’s top lawyer, compared the drug and oil lawsuits with successful litigation in the 1990s against tobacco manufacturers. “It was worth it, because several generations of young people did not become smokers because of the effect of those lawsuits,” Carter said.

The opioid lawsuit is likely to be consolidated for discovery purposes with the Suffolk litigation, and tried in Manhattan.

In a written statement, Janssen spokeswoman Sarah Freeman said: “We maintain that the allegations made in these lawsuits against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. Our actions in the marketing and promotion of our opioid pain medicines were appropriate and responsible.”

Teva spokeswoman Kaelan Hollonto said in her written statement that the firm aims to “understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse without sacrificing patients’ needed access to pain medicine.”

Purdue Pharma’s John Puskar said, “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

Other defendants couldn’t be reached or didn’t respond to a request for comment.

According to Dr. Herminia Palacio, de Blasio’s deputy for health and human services, fatal overdoses in New York City jumped 17 percent from 2014 to 2015, and 50 percent from 2015 to 2016. Half the deaths involved fentanyl.

More than 1,000 people died in 2016 of an overdose involving an opioid, the highest on record, according to city statistics.

“We have so much work to do,” Palacio said.

The suit, filed in Manhattan state Supreme Court, alleges that the manufacturers misrepresented the drugs’ safety and efficacy and that distributors oversupplied the pills and fueled the illegal market.

Doing so, the suit claims, created a public nuisance “through increased substance use treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, inpatient hospital services, medical examiner costs, criminal justice costs, and law enforcement costs,” according to the mayor’s office.

Suffolk’s 2016 suit which, like New York City’s, was filed with the Illinois-based law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, relies on similar argument theories but also invokes the 2011 Medford pharmacy robbery by husband-and-wife junkies who killed four customers and workers.

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