The city of San Francisco has joined more than 1,200 other cities, counties and other groups in suing prescription drug makers and distributors in federal court for their alleged role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.
San Francisco filed its lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday, accusing the companies of fraudulent practices, negligence, conspiracy, creation of a racketeering enterprise and public nuisance.
The case is expected to be transferred to a federal court in Ohio, where U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland is coordinating more than 1,200 similar lawsuits filed nationwide by cities, counties, states, Native American tribes, unions and other organizations.
Other Northern California counties that previously filed cases that have been transferred to Polster’s court include Marin, Monterey, Napa and San Mateo counties.
San Francisco’s 162-page lawsuit accuses drug makers such as Purdue Pharma L.P. of Stamford, Conn., of misleading doctors and patients about the dangers of pain-killing opioid drugs such as OxyContin, oxycodone and fentanyl.
It accuses distribution companies of failing to effectively monitor and report suspicious sales of the drugs as required by state and federal laws.
The distributors named as defendants include San Francisco-based McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. of Dublin, Ohio, and AmerisourceBergen Corp. of Chesterbrook, Pa. The three companies together account for most of the wholesale distribution of prescription drugs to pharmacies, hospitals and clinics.
The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a trade association for the companies, responded to the lawsuit today by saying the opioid epidemic would be better addressed by examination of the root causes rather than lawsuits.
“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders,” alliance Senior Vice President John Parker said in a statement.
“Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated,” Parker said.
The alliance said the distributors don’t prescribe the drugs or make medical decisions and do report opioid shipments to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
San Francisco’s lawsuit asks for financial compensation for the costs of treating opioid addiction and an injunction halting the alleged false marketing and failure to report suspicious sales.
It says that prescription opioid overdoses caused 200,000 deaths in the United State between 1999 and 2016 and more than 2,190 deaths in California alone in 2017.
In proceedings in the federal court in Ohio, Polster has scheduled an initial trial for September 2019 on lawsuits filed by Cleveland, Akron and two Ohio counties.
In a ruling today, Polster rejected a bid by the drug makers and distributors for dismissal of racketeering, conspiracy and negligence claims in the lawsuits.
The judge wrote, “It is accurate to describe the opioid epidemic as a man-made plague, 20 years in the making. The pain, death, and heartache it has wrought cannot be overstated.”
Polster said the plaintiffs “have made very serious accusations” in alleging that the defendant companies “have contributed to the addiction of millions of Americans to these prescription opioids.”
“Whether plaintiffs can prove any of these allegations remains to be seen, but this court holds that they will have that opportunity,” Polster wrote.
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