Grand Rapids’ city officials sue big pharma for racketeering, escalating opioid crisis

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The City of Grand Rapids is suing 24 major pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of racketeering to profit from their highly-addictive opioids, claiming their manufacturers, distributors and retailers pushed opioids as "safe" drugs.

In the 156-page lawsuit filed Thursday, city officials outline negative impacts the opioid crisis has on society nationwide, and in Grand Rapids, then accuse the companies of “corporate malfeasance" and deceit. The lawsuit aims to become part of more than 64 lawsuits filed by local governments, including class actions, against pharmaceutical companies in what's called: In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation. This will streamline the lawsuits' goal to settlement or trial.

"[Grand Rapids city officials] do have teeth and they’re not alone," said Chris Hastings, WMU Cooley Law Professor on Monday. "They’re a group of over 60 municipalities that are filing similar lawsuits that are sought to be consolidated in Ohio."

The lawsuit continues:

"As patients throughout the country became addicted to opioids, manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioids similarly became addicted to the immense profits associated with the widespread consumption of opioids... If corporate actors had only followed federal law, however, the torrential flow of prescription opioids into American homes, schools, towns and cities might have been slowed to a trickle."

"They’re tough allegations, they’re racketeering allegations," said Hastings.

"The allegations are that the defendants formed two associations, in fact enterprises: one, a diversion enterprise, which sought to avoid all of the federal law that was designed to make sure opiates didn’t get diverted from legitimate prescriptions onto the black market. And the allegations in the complaint, if they’re true, suggest that there was willful effort to make sure that happened for the sake of profits; they’re pretty serious allegations, and if they’re proven they’re going to be pretty devastating."

In the lawsuit the City suggests that the plaintiffs-manufactures and distributors of pharmaceutical drugs-knowingly marketed opiate pain drugs as non-addictive or less addictive than they actually were.  They say this is where the "present-day opioid crisis" began, saying the companies worked to "normalize" opiate use in the United States.

City officials also write Grand Rapids is disproportionately impacted by the opioid addiction crisis.  It claims Michigan is the tenth-leading state in the country for opioid usage, according to a 2016 CDC statistic. It goes on to explain the massive toll the drugs' usage take on emergency first responders, medical professionals and law enforcement citywide: for instance, forcing them to shift their attention and resources away from other potentially important issues.

Throughout the 156-page filing, the city outlines how these manufactures of opiate pharmaceuticals allegedly chose to use misleading research in recent decades to minimize the idea that their drugs were potentially habit-forming.

Pharmacies are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit. City officials write these pharmacies failed to act with due diligence to supervise patients taking opiate pain medication. The lawsuit states these companies failed to abide with federal law that places a legal duty on pharmacies to maintain effective controls against prescription opiates being diverted into illegitimate channels.

The lawsuit makes several claims against the defendants, including: being a public nuisance, negligence, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said in a statement to FOX 17, "the opioid epidemic is widespread and it has had a significant impact on our community. In addition to the devastation it causes to individuals and families, there is a financial burden to communities as we work to provide services to respond effectively. The federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Grand Rapids and nine other cities and counties across Michigan argues that pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies need to be held responsible for their role in this epidemic, the deaths associated with it and the costs to local governments."

The City is asking for several things in the lawsuit, including ensuring the listed defendants do not fail in reporting "suspicious orders" of pharmaceuticals in the future. They are also asking for damages on several different points: to reimburse the cost of addressing damages already caused by the epidemic and to fund future efforts.

"When the first of these lawsuits were filed they were comparing them to the handgun lawsuits, which were rather unsuccessful," said Hastings. "And now they’re being compared to the tobacco lawsuits, which ended up being very successful. So it’s a big battle, but it’s worth fighting."

The defendants listed in the lawsuit are:

  • Purdue Pharma L.P.
  • Cephalon, Inc.
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
  • Endo International PLC
  • Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Insys Therapeutics, Inc.
  • Mallinckrodt PLC
  • Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals
  • Allergan PLC
  • Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Watson Laboratories, Inc.
  • Actavis LLC
  • Actavis Pharma, Inc.
  • AmerisourceBergen Corporation
  • Cardinal Health, Inc.
  • McKesson Corporation
  • Omnicare Distribution Center LLC
  • Masters Pharmaceutical, Inc.
  • CVS Health Corporation
  • Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
  • Rite Aid Corporation
  • Costco Wholesale Corporation

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