Life Science Compliance Update

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October 18, 2017

Class Action Suits Over Opioid Epidemic Ramping Up

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A coalition of 41 states' attorneys general have served five major opioid manufacturers with subpoenas seeking information about how these companies marketed and sold prescription opioids. The coalition is also demanding documents and information related to distribution practices from three drug distributors.

The investigative subpoenas and document requests were sent to pharmaceutical manufacturers Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd./Cephalon Inc. and Allergan. The group also served a supplemental investigative subpoena to Purdue Pharma. Documents were also requested of three major pharmaceutical distributors: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Philadelphia-area union workers are joining a wave of litigation against opioid manufacturers after losing eight members to addiction in 11 months. In addition to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 98 (IBEW) said it is preparing to file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that have contributed to the growing opioid crisis. They plan to file in civil court later this week after consulting with other local and national unions interested in joining a class action suit.

"IBEW Local 98 will no longer allow the manufacturers and marketers of these deadly drugs to peddle their poison to our members without facing severe consequences," Local 98 business manager John Dougherty said. "I have seen far too many of our members lose their lives to opioids," Dougherty said. "It's a national epidemic and I believe the only way to get the attention of Big Pharma is to hit them in the wallet."

The fight against opioid manufacturers is also extending to local municipalities, who are waging their own wars against the deadly epidemic. Bensalem Township is bringing claims against several drug companies and their subsidiaries, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals. Similar litigation is already underway in Oklahoma, Ohio and Mississippi. However, in Philadelphia, construction workers are especially susceptible to injury and, as a result, often turn to opioids for rehabilitation, Dougherty said. But addiction is never far behind.

“They don't want to miss any work time, so they work through injuries, which compounds the pain and leads to the use and abuse of opioids. I'm sick of seeing our members working themselves into an early grave,” he said.

Earlier this year, Local 98 changed its opioid prescription policy to prevent addiction. Members using the union’s health care provider are now limited to five days on any opioid prescription for injury or pain management. Previously, their plan allowed for unlimited prescriptions.

It took the union, which has more than 7,000 members, nearly two years of fighting with insurance providers before a change was made, spokesman Frank Keel said. 

In 2016, 907 people died from overdoses in Philadelphia, more than three times the number of homicides in the city. But officials project as many as 1,200 people could die from opioid-related overdoses this year, with thousands more suffering from non-deadly overdoses, according to Mayor Jim Kenney’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic.

In addition, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the city of Seattle have filed separate lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, alleging that the drug maker of contributing to the state’s “opioid epidemic.” The suit accuses Purdue Pharma of “embarking on a massive deceptive marketing campaign and convincing doctors and the public that their drugs are effective for treating chronic pain and have a low risk of addiction, contrary to overwhelming evidence.” The city of Seattle’s suit also names Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Allergan.

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