Herrera sues major drug producers and wholesalers for fueling opioid epidemic

Lawsuit also names Sackler family members as defendants. The family made billions off OxyContin and other drugs while creating millions of addicts.

SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 18, 2018) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced today he has sued major pharmaceutical producers and wholesalers for violating state and federal laws when opioid producers orchestrated a widespread fraud that portrayed drugs like OxyContin and fentanyl as safe and effective, while at the same time opioid wholesalers failed to report massive quantities of suspicious sales. Their deliberate deception created millions of addicts and led to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths nationwide.

The federal lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in San Francisco names major pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma L.P.; wholesalers like San Francisco-based McKesson Corporation; and the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma and is listed on Fortune’s list of America’s wealthiest families. As a detailed exposé in The New Yorker put it: “The Sackler dynasty’s ruthless marketing of painkillers has generated billions of dollars — and millions of addicts.”

“These companies and the people who own them put their greed ahead of human lives,” Herrera said. “The companies that marketed these drugs manipulated and misrepresented medical science to serve their own agenda. They intentionally misled doctors and patients about the appropriate uses, risks and effectiveness of prescription opioids. Then they and the companies that distributed these drugs looked the other way while flooding communities with dangerous narcotics. Their profits came at a staggering human cost. These drugs are dangerous, highly addictive and only suited for a few narrow purposes. They should not have been in medicine cabinets across the country. Cities like San Francisco have been left to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. Now we are going to ensure that these companies and their owners pay their fair share to fix the problem they created.”

Herrera’s lawsuit is expected to be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to be consolidated with similar litigation in In re National Prescription Opiate Litigation, MDL No. 2804 (Hon. Dan A. Polster).

San Francisco’s lawsuit accuses the defendants of creating a public nuisance under California law, being negligent, and engaging in fraudulent concealment, as well as violating the state’s unfair business competition law and false advertising law. The civil suit also says the companies and their owners violated a number of federal statutes, including those prohibiting racketeering. 

The violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act include that the defendants who advertised these drugs engaged in widespread fraud that involved conspiracy and mail and wire fraud to deceptively market opioids as being: (1) rarely, if ever, addictive; (2) safe and effective for the treatment of chronic long-term pain and everyday use; (3) abuse resistant or deterrent; and/or (4) safe and effective for other types of pain for which the drugs were not approved.

All of the defendants knowingly failed to report suspicious orders as required by state and federal law, thereby inundating the market with opioids.

In 2016, more than 63,000 people died in the United States from lethal drug overdoses — more than the number of Americans who died during the entirety of the Vietnam War. 2017 was worse, with more than 72,000 estimated overdose deaths. Sadly, this trend shows no sign of slowing. More than three out of five of those deaths involve opioids — the dangerous, highly addictive and often lethal class of painkillers that includes brand-name medications like OxyContin, Opana and Fentora, as well as generics like oxycodone, oxymorphone and fentanyl.

In all, more than 200,000 people died in the United States between 1999 and 2016 from overdoses directly related to prescription opioids. As San Francisco struggles with street injection drug use, research from the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows that four out of five new heroin users began first with prescription opioid misuse.

In 2017, more than 318,000 prescriptions were written for opioids in San Francisco, more than 311 prescriptions for every 1,000 residents, and 194 emergency department visits resulted from opioid overdoses, excluding heroin.

The opioid crisis and related expenses continue to grow. According to a report issued on Feb. 3, 2018 by Altarum, a nonprofit health systems consultant, the cost of the country’s opioid crisis is estimated to have exceeded $1 trillion from 2001 to 2017. It is projected to cost an additional $500 billion by 2020. San Francisco’s lawsuit seeks to have the defendants forfeit their ill-gotten gains and pay civil penalties, costs and triple the amount of damages shown in court.

Assisting the City Attorney’s Office on the case are: Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP; Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP; Renne Public Law Group; Andrus Anderson LLP; Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP; Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP; and Weitz & Luxenberg P.C.

The case is: City and County of San Francisco et al. v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case no. 3:18-cv-07591, filed Dec. 18, 2018. More information can be found on the City Attorney’s website: sfcityattorney.org

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