Dauphin County Joins the Fight against Manufacturers of Prescription Opioid Painkillers

Dauphin County, PA  – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, and Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller, a leading Philadelphia law firm advocating for victims of catastrophic injuries in Pennsylvania, together filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the county and throughout the nation.

In the complaint, filed in state court in Pennsylvania, the County seeks relief that includes compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars it spends each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.

The defendants in the lawsuit are: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Dr. Perry Fine; Dr. Scott Fishman; and Dr. Lynn Webster.

“Dauphin County, like many other counties in the state and across the country, has been deeply and negatively affected by the opioid epidemic that has infiltrated their community,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul J. Hanly, Jr., lead co-counsel for the county in this case.  “The crisis isn’t new. Opioid abuse and addiction continues to cause incredible, long-lasting damage for families across Dauphin County and is straining county resources every day. Together, with county leaders, we will seek justice for the residents of Dauphin County.”

“Over 5,000 Pennsylvanians lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2017.  It is imperative that we move forward on this,” said Greg Heller of Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller, co-counsel for the County in the case.

“A cornerstone of medicine is ‘first, do no harm,’ and our lawsuit shows these drug companies turned that on its head and only believed in, ‘first, make a profit,’’’ said Commission Chairman Jeff Haste. “They knew how destructive the drug could be and that over time higher doses are needed to achieve the same level of pain relief, but they ignored all this to make billions at the expense of their patients.’’

The law firms are handling the action on a contingency basis, meaning the law firms fund all up-front costs of the litigation and only receive payment upon successful resolution of the litigation. The commissioners intend for all money recovered by the County to go toward paying for drug abuse treatment and prevention programs.

According to the complaint, Dauphin County has the region’s highest rate of fatal overdose deaths with 31.3 deaths per 100,000 residents.  In 2016, overdose deaths in Dauphin County rose 23 percent, and heroin-related deaths have more than tripled since 2010.  According to Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick, the death toll from opioid and opioid-related overdose deaths continues to rise; from 46 in 2013 to 54 in 2014 and 74 and 2015.  The number of deaths for 2017 is more than 110.

“This lawsuit is about making these companies accountable and forcing them to help solve the tragedy they created,’’ said Commissioner Mike Pries. “Taxpayers should not be the ones paying the price for the damage caused by big pharma.’’

Parental drug use also strains children and youth services in Dauphin County. For example, according to the complaint, for the first nine months of 2017, parental drug use was identified as the main reason for removing children from their home for their own protection in 30 percent of the cases where Dauphin County Children and Youth personnel took that step.

Apart from the toll on human life, the crisis has had a significant financial impact on the county. Human services, social services, court services, law enforcement services, the Office of the Medical Examiner, and health services, including hospital, emergency and ambulatory services, have all been impacted by the crisis. For example, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ egregious conduct, the county has paid, and continues to pay, increased health care costs stemming from prescription opioid dependency. These costs include unnecessary and excessive opioid prescriptions, substance abuse treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, and inpatient hospital services, among others. The defendants’ conduct also caused the County to incur substantial economic, administrative and social costs relating to opioid addiction and abuse, including criminal justice costs, victimization costs, lost productivity costs, and education and prevention program costs, among others.

“I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t been touched in some way by the opioid epidemic, either through their own addiction or in trying to help a family member or friend,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “Making treatment readily accessible is the only way we’re going to turn the tide, and we need the drug companies to start helping to pay for that treatment.’’

The lawsuit alleges the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was allegedly perpetrated through a civil conspiracy involving a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive (unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications) promotion and marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006, and is ongoing. Specifically, the complaint details how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other “educational” materials, conducting sales visits to doctors, and supporting a network of professional societies and advocacy groups – all of which were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.

The Dauphin County lawsuit follows similar, ongoing action filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of counties across the country. In addition to Pennsylvania, Simmons has filed similar litigation on behalf of more than 140 municipalities in Connecticut, Louisiana, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Wisconsin. In January 2018, Hanly was appointed co-lead counsel of the Multidistrict Opioid Litigation, to oversee all federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioids. Those cases are being heard in federal court in Ohio.