Kankakee County Joins the Fight Against Manufacturers of Prescription Painkillers

KANKAKEE COUNTY, IL – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kankakee County, Illinois 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.

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.; Abbott Laboratories; Abbott Laboratories, 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.

“Kankakee County joins the growing list of municipalities around the country that have concluded that the defendant drug companies must be held responsible for their conspiratory and fraudulent actions and the injuries and costs that have resulted from the opioid epidemic,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul Hanly, lead counsel in the case.  “The defendants have manufactured, promoted and marketed opioids by omitting critical information that has long been known about the drugs’ addictive qualities and other risks associated with their prolonged use.”

“From our Court Street to our nation’s Wall Street, the laws must apply to everyone.  Those pharmaceutical companies that recklessly distribute opiates into our community are nothing more than heroin dealers in business suits selling from behind a desk as opposed to on our street corners,” said Jim Rowe, State’s Attorney of Kankakee County. “They are a drain on our families, neighborhoods and taxpayers.  I am proud that Kankakee County is joining in this effort to hold them accountable, and I pledge the support and resources of my office to assist in the litigation.”

Andrew Wheeler, Kankakee County Board Chairman, added, “Beyond the emotional toll associated with opioid addiction, Kankakee County is experiencing a surge in financial costs. Kankakee County is near the top of the list in terms of opioid related deaths-per-capita in Illinois, and the added costs of autopsies, life-saving Narcan administration, law enforcement, and the judicial resources necessary to combat this epidemic is putting a burden on an already strained budget. We just can’t keep up with the costs.”

Opioids contributed to nearly 1,200 overdose deaths in Illinois in 2016, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. 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.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, more Illinoisans died from an opioid-related drug overdose in 2014 than from homicide or motor vehicle accidents.  Illinois is one of 14 states that has seen an 8.3% increase in overdose deaths. For example, the Kankakee County Coroner found that the rate of opioid-related fatalities in the County rose from 12 overdose deaths to 26 deaths.  According to Kankakee County’s complaint, between 2012 and 2016, the County’s consumption of morphine equivalent opioids was 2,296 milligrams per patient.

The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants’ deceptive marketing, and the flood of prescription painkillers into Kankakee County, has resulted in the county incurring exorbitant additional costs related to health care costs for county employees and retirees, including unnecessary and excessive opioid prescriptions, substance abuse treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, and inpatient hospital services, investigative autopsy costs, 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, forensic costs, NARCAN for first responders, among others.

The Kankakee County lawsuit follows similar, ongoing actions filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of municipalities across the country. In addition to Kankakee County, Simmons has also filed similar lawsuits in New York, Louisiana, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.