Suing prescription drug-makers was a tactic Lorain County officials thought about for a long time.
They pulled the trigger in December, filing a lawsuit that alleges some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers engaged in racketeering and purposely hid how addictive their medications are.
“These companies misled everyone about the addictive properties of their products in a matter quite similar to what happened with the tobacco industry and cigarettes,” said county commissioner Matt Lundy. “It was all motivated by profit and has caused us and many, many other communities immeasurable harm and financial burden, from prosecuting cases, to the courts, to those who respond to overdoses.”
No concrete number has been revealed regarding how much the opioid epidemic has cost Lorain County, but a recent study sponsored by the Nord Family Foundation calculated roughly $200 million in 2016 alone.
But Lundy said it’s hard to put a dollar figure on the 132 overdose deaths and countless nonfatal overdoses counted here in 2016 alone.
In all, 25 companies are named as defendants in the suit, including Purdue Pharma, Amerisourcebergen Corp., McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Johnson & Johnson, and Watson Laboratories.
Toward the end of 2016, Amerisourcebergen, McKesson, and Cardinal Health were named in communications between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and West Virginia Attorney General Pat Morrisey. It was revealed that those manufacturers had shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxyxodone pills to West Virginia in a six-year span, which is enough for every man, woman, and child in the state to have 433.
Records also showed that areas with higher rates of overdoses were targeted with more powerful pills.
One pharmacy in Mingo County, W.Va., which is home to fewer than 24,000 people, ordered more than three million oxycodone pills in 2009. Larger chains in the area such as Rite-Aid ordered only a few thousand over the same time period.
Pills have flowed out into Lorain County en mass from legal sources as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 74 percent of residents countywide received a prescription opioid in 2016 — that’s roughly 223,000 people in our area in a single year’s time.
“There needs to be accountability,” Lundy said. “Part of our litigation is the distributors saw these big spikes in the distribution of these drugs and no one sounded the alarm. How can they say no one saw anything that wasn’t right? You can’t just look at it from a profit motive and say, ‘This is great. We’re making so much money.”’
According to Lundy, no county money is being spent in the lawsuit and any fees for representation will come from a future prospective settlement. Napoli Shkolnik, a New York-based law firm that’s also working with Parma and Dayton in their own struggles with opioids, is representing Lorain County.
Lorain and Elyria have also filed their own litigation against pharma companies.
“I don’t know how you put a dollar figure on someone who loses a father, mother, brother, or sister,” said Lundy. “I don’t know how you put a figure on people never feeling safe because their homes have been broken into by someone looking for drug money.”
“If this hasn’t touched you personally, you should be on your hands and knees every night thanking God you haven’t had a loved one fall prey to this epidemic. You should thank God you haven’t lost anyone. Until it hits close to home, some people never understand it. I was raised to care about my fellow man. Sometimes people fall and they need help getting back up. This epidemic is an example of people falling quickly and deeply into a very dark place.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.