With New Filings, More Than Half of the Counties in Wisconsin Have Filed Complaints Against Manufacturers of Prescription Painkillers

WEST BEND, WI  –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,  joined forces today to file lawsuits on behalf of 17 Wisconsin counties against pharmaceutical companies over the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the state and throughout the nation.

The counties filing suits are Ashland, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Dodge, Dunn, Kenosha, Marinette, Marquette, Sawyer, St. Croix, Trempealeau, Vernon and Waushara. The counties, which represent over 750,000 Wisconsinites, seek relief in the complaint that includes compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars they spend 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.

Today’s filing follows similar action taken by 28 counties in Wisconsin earlier this month in federal court against pharmaceutical manufacturers to address the opioid crisis.  With today’s action, more than half of the counties in Wisconsin have joined the lawsuit to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role in the nation’s ongoing drug crisis and epidemic. 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.

“The lawsuits filed today on behalf of these additional 17 counties in Wisconsin build upon the important work of addressing the opioid crisis in the state,” said Erin Dickinson of Crueger Dickinson LLC, lead counsel along with partner Charles Crueger in the lawsuits filed today. “Counties are bearing a large burden of the costs associated with combating this public health emergency. Together, with Simmons Hanly Conroy, we will work to hold the defendants responsible for the devastating effects their actions have produced across the state and throughout the nation.”

“We are proud to stand with Erin and Charles as they seek justice for these counties and their residents,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul Hanly, lead co-counsel in the case. “These 17 counties are taking an important step to hold accountable those who have destroyed their communities. Together, we will work to ensure Wisconsinites across the state get justice.”

“Kenosha County has been affected by the opioid crisis in our county and it has a responsibility to those in need,” said Kimberly Breunig, Kenosha County Board Chairwoman. “Those companies and individuals that made misrepresentations and false claims to physicians and others in our community, should be held accountable for their part in the crisis.”

According to the lawsuit, in 2015, the majority of opioid-related deaths in Wisconsin involved prescription opioids. Today, the number of Wisconsinites who die as a result of drug overdoses exceeds the number who die from motor vehicle crashes, as well as suicide, breast cancer, colon cancer, firearms, influenza or HIV.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the rate of opioid overdose deaths in Wisconsin nearly doubled from 5.9 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2006 to 10.7 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2015. Furthermore, opioid-related hospital visits in Wisconsin, which include both inpatient hospitalizations and emergency department visits, have doubled over the last decade. In 2015, there were nearly six hospital stays involving opioids for every death involving opioids. Kenosha County, for example, had 979 opioid-related hospital visits in 2016.

Apart from the toll on human life, the crisis has financially strained the services the counties provide its residents and employees. Human services, social services, court services, law enforcement services, the office of the coroner/medical examiner and health services, including hospital, emergency and ambulatory services, have all been severely impacted by the crisis. For example, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ egregious conduct, the counties have paid, and continue to pay, millions of dollars for 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 counties 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 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 Wisconsin lawsuits follow similar, ongoing actions in Wisconsin filed by Crueger Dickinson and Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of counties across the country. In addition to Wisconsin, Simmons has also filed similar lawsuits in New York, Louisiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Illinois.