The opioid epidemic is costing the state and federal government billions of dollars. Numerous lawsuits have been filed by cities and counties in courts across the nation. Recently the federal government indicated it is exploring a lawsuit against the companies that manufacture and distribute opioids seeking reimbursement of the costs the government has expended fighting the epidemic.

Tens of thousands of people die each year in this country from opioid overdoes and exponentially more individuals receive treatment, often—if not usually—at the taxpayer’s expense. The lawsuits accuse the pharmaceutical companies with deceptively marketing the drugs as safe, non-addictive painkillers. When these drugs were first introduced, many doctors and patients believed the pharmaceutical companies’ representations. It wasn’t long before it became obvious that these drugs were highly addictive and dangerous. As more patients became addicted, the demand for these drugs increased. Yet, the opioid manufacturers and distributors ignored the proliferation of suspicious orders for the drugs.

Over 400 cities and counties across the country are plaintiffs in a multidistrict federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Ohio. The defendants are pharmaceutical companies that manufactured and, as the plaintiffs allege, “aggressively marketed” opioid drugs even though the companies were aware that the drugs were addictive and dangerous. The lawsuit names not only the pharmaceutical companies as defendants but also pharmacy chains, alleging that the pharmacies sold these drugs to individuals even though they were aware that many of the individuals were returning again and again to fill these prescriptions, which should have alerted the pharmacies that the individuals were addicted or otherwise using the medications for other than legitimate medical reasons.

Some cities, such as Houston Texas, prefer to keep the lawsuits in state court. Around 25 counties and cities are pursuing litigation in their local jurisdiction, preferring that the judges and juries in the locale decide the outcome.

The state of Arkansas is pursuing a unique approach. Jurisdictions representing 90 percent of Arkansas population have banded together to file a lawsuit against multiple pharmaceutical companies an Arkansas county Circuit Court. The list of 49 defendants reads like a “Who’s Who” in the pharmaceutical industry and includes Purdue Pharma, Teva, and Johnson & Johnson.

The opioid crises in Arkansas has seen a 300 percent increase in fatal overdoses since the year 2000. Over that same period, opioid sales in Arkansas quadrupled. It is hard to believe but last year, the number of opioid prescriptions in Arkansas was equal to 80 pills for every person in the state. After Alabama, Arkansas has the highest rate of prescriptions for opioids.

As in the rest of the country, the bill for treating overdoes and addiction in Arkansas falls to the taxpayer. The joint effort of almost all Arkansas jurisdictions in pursuing this lawsuit allows the cities and counties across the state to join as one effort, rather than competing against one another for damage awards.

California’s efforts to sue the opioid companies has been more fragmented. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the People of the State of California brought by Santa Clara County Counsel and the Orange County District Attorney was recently allowed to continue n Orange County Superior Court. The lawsuit, filed almost four years ago, has been subject to challenges by the defendant pharmaceutical companies, including the defendants’ motion to dismiss the suit, which was recently denied by the court. Although this lawsuit was among the first in the country against the opioid manufacturers, it has gone nowhere due to what the Santa Clara County Counsel termed the defendants’ “delay tactics.” With the recent ruling, the lawsuit is now expected to proceed in the Orange County Superior Court.

The opioid epidemic is a national tragedy. Many may blame the users of the drugs but the lawsuits allege that if it were not for the opioid manufacturers’ and distributors’ deceptive and aggressive marketing, we would not have this epidemic. Ultimately, the taxpayers are footing the bill and these lawsuits hope to shift that burden to the companies who are responsible for disseminating these drugs despite the knowledge of their addictive and dangerous properties.

Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available to discuss your criminal matter. You may contact him for a complimentary consultation by calling his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.