The city of Vancouver filed a lawsuit against major opioid producers and suppliers this week, joining a growing list of cities seeking restitution for the drug’s impact on their communities.
The 139-page lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma names the Sackler family, owners of OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, as well as health care giant Johnson & Johnson and pharmacy Walgreens Co.
“The United States is experiencing the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history — the misuse, abuse, and over-prescription of opioids,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff city of Vancouver, Washington, with over 175,000 residents, has been deeply affected by the crisis.”
The city’s felt the financial impact of the epidemic “through the need for increased emergency medical services, but also through increased drug related offenses affecting law enforcement, corrections, and courts, and through additional resources spent on community and social programs, including for the next generation of Vancouver residents, who are growing up in the shadow of the opioid epidemic,” the suit states.
According to the lawsuit, between 2002-2004 and 2011-2013, the number of opioid-use treatment admissions within Clark County rose 246.1 percent. From 2002 to 2006, there were 129 opioid-related deaths in the county; from 2013 to 2017, that number rose to 192.
Additionally, doctors wrote 60.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people in the county in 2016.
In a resolution to bring legal action from Acting City Attorney Jonathan Young, the court document states that opioids continue as an “unacceptable hazard” for city residents.
Dan Lloyd, the city’s assistant city attorney, said in an email to The Columbian that Vancouver has not determined an exact dollar figure linked to the drain of the drug crisis on the city.
“But it’s not insignificant,” Lloyd added. “The city’s efforts to address homelessness over the past few years are well documented, and the opioid crisis has undoubtedly played a major role in that.”
Also listed as defendants in the suit are Rhodes Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Allergan Finance, Watson Laboratories, Actavis Pharma, Mallinckrodt, Par Pharmaceutical, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, KVK-Tech, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation, Smith’s Food & Drug Centers and Kroger Co.
The Vancouver City Council first broached the idea of filing for opioid damages during a meeting over the summer.
“I was always perplexed when I’d go to state and national city conferences and everyone else was talking about the opioid crisis, and somehow I’d felt like for some reason we were not seeing the effects of it, and I’ve realized I was just being naive,” said City Councilor Ty Stober in an Aug. 5 meeting.
“We are very much dealing with the effects and the implications of the opioid crisis in our community.”
The suit makes the case that opioid manufacturers and distributors knew how addictive and dangerous drugs like OxyContin were, and pushed aggressive, misleading marketing campaigns that downplayed the risk.
Purdue’s internal emails reveal that the company’s executives “personally knew that doctors incorrectly believed that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, leading them to prescribe it much more frequently,” the lawsuit states. The company’s president “directed staff not to tell doctors the truth about oxycodone’s potency — as that would have likely reduced sales.”
Other jurisdictions have won sizeable awards in similar lawsuits.
This week, two Ohio counties won $20.4 million in a settlement with Johnson & Johnson, the first lawsuit against an opioid manufacturer to go to federal court.
Last month, Purdue Pharma reached a tentative settlement with 23 states and more than 2,000 cities and counties — including Clark County — that would see the Sacklers pay out roughly $3 billion over several years and relinquish control of the company. Details of that deal, like when and how the money will be divvied up among the plaintiffs, is still being hammered out. The case was heard before Judge Dan Polster of the Northern District of Ohio.
The Sackler family is worth roughly $13 billion, according to Forbes.
In the message to The Columbian, Lloyd wrote that the city’s suit may be transferred to the multi-district litigation pending before Polster.
“This is what happened to Clark County’s lawsuit,” Lloyd explained.