A petition filed Friday in Muskogee County District Court alleges a pattern of false and deceptive trade practices employed by a consortium of pharmaceutical companies and distributors that contributed to the local opioid epidemic.
The city of Muskogee filed the lawsuit, which names 32 defendants, which are divided by two classifications: pharmaceutical defendants and distributors. The city, represented by Oklahoma City-based Fulmer Sill, alleges the defendants downplayed the risks “of opioid addiction” and overstated “the efficacy of opioids for more wide-ranging conditions ... in order to maximize their profits at the expense of human life.”
John Parker, senior vice president of communications for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, said attempting to hold distributors liable "for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated." In a response sent by email he said plaintiffs engaged in opioid litigation "would be better served addressing the root causes" of the epidemic "rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation."
“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders," Parker said, emphasizing the need understand the supply chain and role of each stakeholder. "Distributors do not conduct research, manufacture, market, or prescribe medications, nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products, or patient-benefit designs."
Among the legal theories outlined in the 69-page petition is a claim for the abatement of a public nuisance, which according to the city’s lawyers, adds credence to their argument that the case cannot be removed to federal court. They state in the petition venue is proper in state court because, in addition to the nuisance abatement, “there is incomplete diversity of residents” and “no federal question presented.”
Fulmer Sill, a professional limited liability company, also was retained by Muskogee Board of County Commissioners, to represent it in the opioid litigation. Oklahoma is among the states reported to have been hit hardest by the national opioid epidemic — Muskogee County, according to statistics cited in the petition, “had the sixth highest death rate in the state, and the prescription rate for opioids was 30% higher than the state rate.”
The law firm, which represents local and tribal governments across the nation, estimates the opioid epidemic has plagued communities, creating an economic burden of about $78.4 billion. That estimate, the firm’s lawyers say, “accounts for lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, as well as the increased burden on the criminal justice system.”
The city alleges the pharmaceutical companies “embarked upon a campaign of false, deceptive and unfair assurances grossly overstating the benefits of the opioid drugs.” It further alleges the companies named in the lawsuit “took steps to avoid detection ... and fraudulently conceal their deceptive marketing.”
Muskogee is seeking economic damages from defendants for costs associated with its “past efforts to eliminate the hazards to public health and safety” and to “permanently eliminate” and “abate the public nuisance.” It also seeks to recover punitive damages in addition to actual damages.