OC Cities Sue Opioid Makers Over Unethical Practices

By Michelle Cornelius

Irvine, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and other Orange County cities have joined in the series of lawsuits across the country against opioid manufacturers.

In the last two months, San Francisco Superior Court, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Irvine, San Clemente, Santa Ana, and Westminster have brought various lawsuits against the major OxyContin manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical, Johnson & Johnson and  other companies that produce or distribute opioid drugs. These cities have been pushing for compensation for damages from the producers’ negligence through over-prescription and demand manufacturers address the opioid epidemic in local communities.

Irvine Councilwoman Melissa Fox states the burden of the opioid epidemic on Irvine’s resources through increasing costs of emergency rooms, jail time, and even on the morale of the police force.

“How hard is it on a regular person, an officer, who has to see this over and over and over again?” she said.

Other cities mention similar strains on city funds and point out the exploitation of vulnerable communities for profit, citing the increase of “for-profit sober centers,” disturbance calls for gangs or potentially violent intoxicated individuals. According to Santa Ana Police Corporal Anthony Bertagna, the epidemic has lead to more overdoses, particularly ones that end in death.

The allegations against the companies are negligence through over-prescription and limited tracking and reporting as well as  fraud through deceptive marketing strategies that mask the negative addictive properties of the medication.

Motivated by the negative impact on  community members through drug use and draining of resources, counties have filed a lawsuit that states that the defendants should be made to “abate the public nuisance that they created” and pay funds to various cities affected by the opioid epidemic.

Purdue counters the allegations, stating that Orange County cities are trying to fight an issue through the wrong means, fighting by “the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.” They point to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s approval of their medications and warning labels along partnerships with federal agencies towards research on drug abuse.

“We believe that no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue, and we continue to work closely with governments and law enforcement agencies on this difficult social issue,” Purdue said in a statement.

The outcome of these cases uncertain and how the money would be allocated unclear, as it is currently unknown how the distribution of money will play out.

According to Stanford health law Professor Michelle Mello, using the settlement money to create proper substance abuse treatment programs is necessary to stem the opioid epidemic. However, without strings attached to the settlement money, it is possible that the money could be channelled to other sources in ways unconducive to public health.