Counties Initiate First Action in the State, Against Manufacturers of Prescription Painkillers Over Opioids Epidemic and Addiction

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 the first lawsuits today on behalf of Polk County, Iowa and 35 other Iowa 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.

Counties filing suit in Iowa are: Adair, Adams, Audubon, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Buena Vista, Calhoun, Carroll, Cedar, Clay, Clayton, Clinton, Dallas, Delaware, Fayette, Hamilton, Hardin, Humboldt, Johnson, Lee, Mahaska, Marion, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, O’Brien, Plymouth, Polk, Pottawattamie, Sac, Scott, Shelby, Sioux, Taylor and Winneshiek.

Today’s filings are the first in Iowa federal court against pharmaceutical manufacturers to address the opioid crisis.  With today’s action, 36 of Iowa’s 99 counties are seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their roles in the nation’s ongoing drug crisis and epidemic. The defendants in the lawsuits 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.

“Communities throughout Iowa are suffering as a result of the opioid epidemic,” said Erin Dickinson of Crueger Dickinson LLC, lead counsel along with partner Charles Crueger in the lawsuits. “The lawsuits filed today, the first in Iowa, are an important step toward holding those responsible for causing the worst drug epidemic we’ve ever seen. Together, with Simmons Hanly Conroy, we will work to get justice for the people of Iowa who have suffered unimaginable losses.”

“We applaud these counties for taking this important first step to hold accountable this who have devastated their communities,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul Hanly, lead co-counsel in the case. “We are proud to stand with Erin and Charles as they seek justice for these counties and their residents.”

“Polk County and other counties in this state have been negatively affected by the opioid crisis perpetrated by drug manufacturers who have preyed upon our citizens through the use of sophisticated and deceptive marketing practices,” said John P. Sarcone, Polk County Attorney. “The human toll has been great, not only to those who suffer from addiction but also to their families who have to deal with a myriad of problems related to their loved ones’ addictions.  Our communities suffer with the increase in criminal activity and the increase in children who are in need of assistance because of their parent’s conduct not to mention the financial damages incurred as a result of the costs of substance abuse and mental health commitments and the tremendous costs in trying to break the addiction cycle.  The results of the drug manufacturers’ conduct is no different than the results caused by the street dealer, and they need to be held accountable and punished for their reprehensible behavior.”

On Jan. 4, Hanly was appointed by a federal judge to be co-lead counsel overseeing all the federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioid painkillers. Hanly, with extensive experience in litigation against opioid manufacturers going back more than a decade, will work with his co-lead counsels to manage the federal lawsuits brought by nearly 100 other law firms representing plaintiffs in more than 200 docketed opioid cases. 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.

According to the lawsuits, prescription opioid deaths in Iowa have quadrupled in the past 20 years. Rates of prescription opioid overdose deaths since 1999 in Iowa have increased, making it only one of four states with such a dramatic increase. Polk County alone made up 25% of those deaths.

The majority of opioid-related deaths in Iowa involved prescription opioids, with there being at least 646 such deaths between 2009 and 2014. In Iowa, opioid related emergency room visits have tripled over the last decade. In 2006 there were only 519 such encounters, whereas there were 1,555 in 2014.

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 lawsuits allege 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 complaints detail 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 Iowa lawsuits follow similar, ongoing actions filed by Crueger Dickinson and Simmons Hanly Conroy on behalf of counties across the country. In addition to Iowa, Simmons has also filed similar lawsuits in New York, Louisiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin.