NEW YORK (Feb. 4, 2017) – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions, has filed lawsuits on behalf of New York’s Broome and Erie counties against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opium-like painkillers (opioids) that has led to a drug epidemic in the counties.
In complaints filed Wednesday in the New York Supreme Court, the counties seek relief including 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. The lawsuits follow a similar, ongoing action filed by Simmons Hanly Conroy in August 2016 on behalf of Suffolk County, N.Y.
“Broome and Erie counties are the latest in a growing list of jurisdictions to conclude that the defendant drug companies must be held responsible for their conspiratory and fraudulent actions and the injury to the counties and their residents that has resulted from the opioid epidemic,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul Hanly, lead counsel for Broome and Erie counties in these cases. “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 their prolonged use.”
According to the complaint for Broome County, the county in 2014 had 458 opioid-related emergency department admissions and 12 deaths reportedly caused by prescription opioid overdose. Located in south-central New York, Broome has a population of about 200,600, according to the 2010 census. Erie, a county with about 919,040 residents (2010 census) that is situated in the western portion of the state, reported 2,328 opioid-related emergency department admissions in 2014, which represents a 46.9 percent increase since 2010.
The lawsuits for both counties also point to criminal activity, including murder and drug-trafficking offenses, as well as costs the counties have incurred and continue to incur related to opioid addiction and abuse, such as those covering health care, criminal justice and victimization, social aspects and lost productivity.
The lawsuits allege deceptive acts and practices, false advertising, public nuisance, violation of New York Social Services laws, fraud, and unjust enrichment against defendants 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. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; as well as physicians Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster, who were allegedly instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally and in Suffolk County.
Commonly known by brand names including OxyContin and Percocet, opioids are considered an appropriate treatment for certain types of short-term pain and for palliative end-of-life care. Substantial evidence exists that opioid drugs are ineffective to treat chronic pain, and actually worsen patients’ health. In addition, opioids are derived from or possess properties similar to opium and heroin, and are highly addictive and dangerous, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates them as controlled substances.
The lawsuits allege that 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 plaintiffs 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 was successful in its intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.
The National Institutes of Health also identifies drug companies’ “aggressive marketing” as a major contributor to the nation’s opioid abuse problem. Despite a lack of scientific evidence that supports the use of opioids for long-term pain management, since 1999, the amount of prescribed opioids in the United States has nearly quadrupled to a total of 254 million prescriptions in 2010 – enough to medicate every U.S. adult around the clock for a month. In 2012, opioids generated $8 billion in revenue for drug companies.
Simmons Hanly Conroy shareholders Paul Hanly and Jayne Conroy have held court-appointed leadership roles of national scope in litigation against pharmaceutical companies brought by consumers harmed by dangerous drugs. In 2006, Hanly and Conroy successfully resolved litigation against Purdue Pharma LLP and Abbot Laboratories, Inc., alleging that 5,000 clients’ addictions to OxyContin was a result of the manufacturer’s fraudulent marketing campaign that claimed the drug was not as addictive as alternative drugs.