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San Benito
May 25, 2024

County files lawsuit, joins fight against opioid companies

San Benito County joined other public entities in California by filing a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for the opioid epidemic and seeking money for damages.

The complaint alleges a public nuisance, corruption, false advertising, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment. The county filed it May 9 in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, according to the lawsuit document obtained by San Benito Live.

Filing it was County Counsel Barbara Thompson and San Diego attorney John Fiske who’s representing hundreds of communities. The San Benito County Health Department was also involved through an opioid task force effort.

San Benito County joined more than 30 counties in California to file legal action this month against pharmaceuticals over the opioid epidemic, according to a story on SFGate.com.

Look back for a San Benito Live video interview with the public health officer in San Benito County about the issue.

The county, like other similar lawsuits, filed it against AmerisourceBergen Drug. Corp., Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp., Purdue Pharma, the Purdue Frederick Co., Teva Pharmaceutical, Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Orto-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Noramco Inc., Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Watson Laboratories, Mallinckrodt, and Insys Therapeutics, according to the lawsuit.

The suit seeks to eliminate the alleged hazard to public health and safety caused by the opioid epidemic, abate the nuisance and recoup money spent by the county combating it, according to the 300-plus-page lawsuit.

It references the national epidemic and claims and claims manufacturers aggressively pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would rarely succumb to drug addiction. Plaintiffs also sued wholesale distributors, claiming they and manufacturers intentionally breached legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.

Damages are for costs for providing medical care, costs for providing treatment, and costs for treatment of infants born with opioid-related medical conditions, costs for law enforcement, costs for providing care for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related disabilities, costs to repair infrastructure damaged and respond to crime.

Read the entire lawsuit here on this attachment: Opioid Lawsuit

The factual background section of the lawsuit alleges the following:

  • Increasing abuse over the past two decades of prescription drugs, including opioid medications
  • By 2010, enough prescription opioids were sold to medicate every adult in the U.S. with 5 milligrams of hydrocodone every four hours for a month.
  • By 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources declared prescription painkiller overdoses at epidemic levels. The death toll has more than tripled in the past decade.
  • More than 40 people die everyday from overdoses of pain relievers like Vicodin, methadone, OxyContin and Opana. They now kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.
  • In 2010, one in 20 people in the U.S. age 12 and older reported using prescription painkillers non-medically.
  • Almost 5,500 people start to misuse prescription painkillers every day.
  • The number of opioid prescriptions written in the U.S. is now roughly equal to the number of adults.
  • Drug overdoses killed about 64,000 people in 2016, an increase of more than 22 percent over the prior year.
  • People addicted to prescription painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
  • Opioid misuse costs $78.5 billion annually for healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice.
  • In California, more people die each year from drug overdoses than any other state, with 1,925 deaths in 2016 due to opioids. Of those, fentanyl was a factor in at least 234, an increase of 47 percent that year.
  • Over 23.6 million prescriptions for opioids were written in California in 2016.
  • Pharmaceutical robberies are up by 163 percent over the last two years, with 237 through mid-November in 2017.
  • In San Benito County: From 2012 to 2014, the county suffered 18 deaths due to drug overdoses.
  • The county’s per capita figure for related deaths is above the state’s and higher than surrounding communities, at 5.23 per 100,000 residents.
  • In 2016, an estimated 5.4 percent of the population aged 12 and up in San Benito County misused opioids and 1 percent (495 people) had an opioid use disorder.
  • Prescription rates in the county have climbed in the past 10 years.
  • It has led to increased crime. Four of the five pharmacies in Hollister have experienced armed robberies in which perpetrators demanded controlled substances, not money.
  • According to the state Department of Health, over 37,747 opioid prescriptions were written in 2016 in San Benito County. That comes to over 617 prescriptions per 1,000 people.

The lawsuit goes to note how historically, before the 1990s, doctors did not prescribe opioids for chronic pain.

Additionally, sales of opioids have exceeded $8 billion in revenue annually since 2009. The lawsuit claims the defendants have falsely misled doctors and patients through their marketing.