Multnomah County sues opioid drug makers for $250m

Suit claims companies pushed doctors to overprescribe opioids

A file photo of pills being dispensed into a bottle. (KOIN)
A file photo of pills being dispensed into a bottle. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Multnomah County, home to Portland, has joined a list of other counties, cities and states in filing a lawsuit against major U.S. pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of pushing doctors to overprescribe opioids such as OxyContin and Percocet despite great risks of addiction.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Monday that in the $250 million lawsuit, the county claims pharmaceutical makers and distributors have engaged in a “campaign of lies and deceptions” to drive up profits by selling opioids to the masses.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said in a statement,

I’m glad that the health crisis of our time is getting attention from our federal government. Here in Multnomah County we have been on the frontlines of this crisis for more than a decade. Our jails, homeless shelters and emergency rooms are flooded with people devastated by this epidemic. The people of Multnomah County simply cannot wait any longer for relief to trickle down – that’s why as a Board we took action by filing suit against the drug companies, distributors and doctors responsible for the oversaturation of opioid prescriptions in our communities. While I’m glad that the health crisis of our time is getting attention from our federal government, we need a more aggressive response from the President that suits this emergency.”

President Donald Trump held a briefing Tuesday on the opioid crisis. The president did not announce any new policy, but vowed to work with health professionals and law enforcement on the crisis.

“Nobody is safe from this epidemic that threatens young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban,” Trump said. “It’s the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.”

Trump’s budget proposes $10.7 billion for drug treatment, which would be a $200 million increase. But it also cuts $167 million from abuse prevention.

Trump’s drug commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, recently called on him to declare a national emergency to deal with the opioid crisis. An initial report from the commission says the approximately 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses mean the death toll is “equal to September 11th every three weeks.”

In 2015, Oregon settled with an Arizona-based drugmaker — Insys Therapeutics — for $1.1 million after accusing the maker of using deceptive marketing to sell the opioid fentanyl.

Multnomah County’s lawsuit, filed last week, goes after a much wider field of companies, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Watson Pharma, the McKesson Drug Co. and several Oregon doctors.

Pharmaceutical companies have remained relatively quiet about the recent outcries. However, Bob Josephson with Purdue Pharma released a statement Tuesday saying,

We share the President’s concern about the opioid crisis, which is why we’ve led the pharmaceutical industry in developing opioids with abuse-deterrent properties, supporting prescription drug monitoring programs and law enforcement access to Naloxone. We’re committed to working with all stakeholders to address this public health challenge while ensuring appropriate patients have access to FDA-approved medications.”

KOIN 6 News Reporter Eileen Park contributed to this report