County attorneys sue makers of highly addictive opiod drugs

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman stood with five other county attorneys and county commissioners from Ramsey and Washington counties Thursday to announce the filing of civil lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributers of highly addictive opioid drugs.

“We’ve had enough of the fraudulent marketing and negligent distribution of opioids,” Washington County Attorney Peter Orput told a news conference Thursday morning. “When marketing a drug, the manufacturers must tell the truth and the claims must be based on science.”

Orput said the makers of such popular drugs as OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet and Duragesic (fentanyl), did neither of those things and “I’m willing to prove it and so are my colleagues.”

About 20 county attorneys across Minnesota are filing the lawsuits separately but in cooperation with each other, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said. In addition to Freeman, Orput and Choi, St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, Mower County Attorney Kristin Nelsen and an assistant Olmsted County Attorney were present.

Orput has been one of the leaders in pushing his county board, and other county attorneys, to sue the manufacturers and the distributers of the opium-based painkillers that have left a trail of shattered families in Minnesota as loved ones became addicted to the painkillers and either overdosed on them or their close cousin, heroin, when they are cut off from the pills.

Orput credited Freeman for calling a meeting in his office bringing together interested prosecutors and some of the top law firms in the Twin Cities who have the wherewithal to take on some of the richest corporations in America. Hennepin County has hired Briol & Benson and Washington D.C. Counsel Linda Singer.

This effort shows “how profoundly committed the prosecutors are,” in trying to stem the opioid epidemic through a civil suit, prosecution for third-degree murder charges against drug dealers and education, Freeman said. He added that there have been cases, including one prosecuted in Hennepin County, where high school athletes suffer an injury, are prescribed an opioid, “use this junk and a year later, they are dead.”

Ramsey County filed its suit Thursday and is suing a long list of manufacturers including Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals and drug distributors including McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp.

The suits will all make similar allegations. Specifically, the drug manufacturers dishonestly marketed to doctors that the formulations of their drug were not addicting and so could be used not only for post-surgery pain or end of life pain management, but for backaches and other more common maladies. The distributers failed to follow state and federal laws that required them to notify officials if a pharmacy was ordering suspiciously large amounts of the drugs.

Orput said they will be seeking restitution from the defendants. The money will be used to reimburse various county departments such as health departments, sheriff’s departments, medical examiners, social work departments and others who have been burdened by the effects of people addicted to opioids.