Santa Fe County Joins the Fight against Manufacturers & Distributors of Opioid Painkillers

Santa Fe County, NM – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, and Crueger Dickinson LLC, a leading Wisconsin law firm focused on high-stakes litigation, together filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of Santa Fe County, New Mexico, against pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors 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 defendants in the lawsuit include Purdue Pharma, L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Noramco, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis PLC; Allergan Finance LLC, f/k/a Actavis, Inc., f/k/a Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Watson Laboratories, Inc.; Actavis, LLC; Actavis Pharma, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma Inc.; Insys Therapeutics, Inc.; Mallinckrodt PLC; Mallinckrodt LLC; Cardinal Health Inc.; McKesson Corporation; AmerisourceBergen Corporation; CVS Health Corporation; The Kroger Co.; Rite Aid of Maryland, Inc. D/B/A RiteAid Mid-Atlantic Customer Support Center, Inc.; Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. A/K/A Walgreen Co.; Wal-Mart Inc. F/K/A Walmart Stores, Inc.; H.D. Smith, LLC d/b/a HD Smith, f/k/a H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co., H.D. Smith Holdings, LLC, H.D. Smith Holding Company; and Miami-Luken, Inc. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico.

In the complaint, the County seeks relief for the costs it incurred to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.  Additionally, the complaint alleges that the crisis was fueled and sustained by those involved in the supply chain of opioids, including manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, who failed to maintain effective controls over the distribution of prescription opioids and who instead have actively sought to evade such controls.

“Together, with Simmons Hanly Conroy, we are holding those accountable who have caused the biggest drug crisis Santa Fe County has ever experienced,” said Erin Dickinson of Crueger Dickinson LLC, lead counsel along with partner Charles Crueger, in the lawsuit filed last week. “We will persist until the defendants are held responsible for the devastating effects their actions have produced across the state and nation.”

“Working with county leaders, we will compel drug companies and distributors to answer for their roles in causing the drug epidemic that is ravaging communities across the country,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul J. Hanly, Jr., lead co-counsel for the County in this case.  “We will fight to achieve relief for Santa Fe County and its residents.”

According to the complaint, Santa Fe County has been deeply affected by the opioid crisis. In 2016, at least 45 Santa Fe County residents died from an opioid overdose – three times the number of county people killed in car crashes.  The opioid crisis has reshaped daily reality for Santa Fe County in numerous ways, including but not limited to increased and intensified emergency medical responses to overdoses; increased drug-related offenses affecting law enforcement, jails, and courts; enormous resources spent on community and social programs to treat those with opioid use disorders; and ultimately prevalent opioid abuse throughout the county, including in public places.

Apart from the toll on human life, the crisis has financially strained the services the county provides its residents and employees. Community services,  court services, law enforcement services, and health services, including hospital, emergency and ambulatory services, have all been severely impacted by the crisis. The defendants’ conduct caused the county to incur substantial economic, administrative and social costs relating to opioid addiction and abuse, including criminal justice costs, victimization costs, child protective services costs, lost productivity costs, and education and prevention program costs, among others.

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 coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive promotion and marketing campaign – including unbranded messaging to evade extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications. These communications, which began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006 and continue today.

Further, the lawsuit alleges that drug distributors have both the obligation and the tools to track suspiciously large surges in prescription opioid demand, including at the level of individual pharmacies or clinics. The lawsuit alleges, however, that the defendants have failed to use these tools to warn public officials about suspicious orders, which they are legally required to do, or to reasonably exercise controls over the obvious oversupply of opioid pills.

The Santa Fe County lawsuit follows similar, ongoing actions filed by Crueger Dickinson and Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of counties across the country. In addition to New Mexico, Simmons represents more than 200 municipalities in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, 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. Additionally, Dickinson was named to the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, a committee of 16 attorneys who will play a major role in the leadership and management of all of the federal cases in the United States.