City of Memphis sues pharmaceutical companies for opioid crisis

The City of Memphis has filed a federal lawsuit against a group of opioid drug manufacturers...
The City of Memphis has filed a federal lawsuit against a group of opioid drug manufacturers and distributors, accusing them of fueling the opioid addiction crisis plaguing the community, according to court records. (Source: WMC-TV)
Updated: Mar. 12, 2019 at 2:22 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The City of Memphis has filed a federal lawsuit against a group of more than 20 opioid drug manufacturers and distributors, accusing them of fueling the addiction crisis plaguing the community, according to court records.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on Thursday.

The suit asks the court to order the companies to pay the city for “past and future costs” of problems created by the opioid epidemic, which the city alleges the companies helped create through deceptive marketing.

“Opioid addiction is ravaging Memphis,” the complaint reads. “The economic damages were foreseeable to defendants and were caused by defendants’ actions.”

The 146-page complaint doesn’t list an exact amount the city is seeking, but the city said it spends millions each year to help Memphians affected by opioids.

The suit accuses the drug-makers and distributors of violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

The following companies are named in the suit: ACTAVIS LLC; Actavis Pharma, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc.; Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis PLC; Amerisoucebergen Drug Corporation; CEPHALON, Inc.,; Cardinal Health Inc.; ENDO HEALTH SOLUTIONS, INC.; Endo Pharmacueticals Inc; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.f/k/a Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. f/k/a Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Johnson and Johnson; MALLINCKRODT PLC; Mallinckrodt, LLC; McKesson Corporation; Normaco Inc; Purdue Frederick Company; Purdue Pharma Inc., Purdue Pharma, L.P.; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA INC; Watson Laboratories Inc; and Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., NKA Actavis.

WMC Action News 5 asked each of the companies named in the suit for comment.

Jansseen Pharmaceuticals, which is one of the companies named in the suit, sent the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible – and that will be apparent to the jurors who will hear the evidence at trial. The FDA-approved labels for these prescription pain medications provide clear information about their risks and benefits. The allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, since 2008, our opioid medications have accounted for less than one percent of the U.S. market for this class of medications (including generics). Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis.”

AmerisourceBergen, another company named in the suit, sent the following response:

"AmerisourceBergen and other wholesale drug distributors are responsible for getting FDA-approved drugs from pharmaceutical manufacturers to DEA-registered pharmacies, based on prescriptions written by licensed doctors and health care providers. Our role in doing so is quite widespread across different therapies, with the distribution of opioid-based products constituting less than two percent of our sales. We are dedicated to doing our part as a distributor to mitigate the diversion of these drugs without interfering with clinical decisions made by doctors, who interact directly with patients and decide what treatments are most appropriate for their care. Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type, and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute. We are committed to collaborating with all stakeholders, including in Tennessee, on ways to combat opioid abuse.”

Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA), the national trade association representing wholesale distributors whose members include McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, released this statement:

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. 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. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

McKesson didn’t comment specifically on the suit, but said the company "delivers life-saving medicines to millions of Americans each day. As a company, we are deeply concerned by the impact the opioid epidemic is having on families and communities across our nation. We are committed to engaging with all who share our dedication to acting with urgency and working together to end this national crisis.”

Other companies did not immediately return messages for comment.

Hundreds of similar lawsuits have been filed against drug manufacturers and distributors by cities and states across the country, including the State of Tennessee.

In 2017, Shelby County Commissioners also filed a lawsuit against nearly 20 different drug manufacturers, doctors and pharmacies.

To view the lawsuit in its entirety click here.

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