A lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco added yet another Bay Area county to the list of places suing opioid manufacturers. San Mateo County joined San Francisco, Contra Costa, and Marin counties in their suits, alleging that the creators of oxycodone, Oxycontin, and fentanyl deliberately misled medical professionals and their patients about the addictiveness of the drugs. Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma counties have also filed suits.
More than 70,000 people died from overdoses in the United States in 2017, many from opiates sold on the black market or obtained from doctors. In the past 20 years, overprescription of the drugs has run rampant, as Big Pharma companies played down the risks associated with their products in the interest of profit. In 2016 alone, medical professionals wrote more than 214 prescriptions for opioid pain medicine — 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people.
It’s not always easy to trace epidemics back to their source, but in this case, the evidence is more than plentiful. Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the makers of the highly-addictive painkiller OxyContin, has done nearly everything in its power to boost the sales of its drug, from blatantly brushing over the risks to trying to bribe doctors to prescribe it.
They’re not the only ones; a video surfaced during a trial this month made by Insys, the producers of a highly-potent fentanyl spray. A parody of an A$AP Rocky song, the piece was directed for its pharmaceutical sales team, and includes lyrics like “I got new patients and I got a lot of them.”
But the lawsuits filed by Bay Area counties are not just about the sketchy marketing and profits-over-people mentality of the companies; it’s also about the health of residents, and the money local taxpayers and governments are funneling into resources to address this health crisis. Homelessness, theft, domestic violence, and a slew of public health issues can arise in communities plagued by addiction. In San Mateo County — where 26 people died of deaths related to prescription overdoses in 2018 — it’s alleged that a harmful dependency on opioids costs the county millions of dollars each year.
“Our job is to protect the residents of San Mateo County, including public funds — we would not be doing our job if we did not take steps to address the opioid epidemic impacting our county, including holding the corporate bad actors accountable for their part in this tragedy,” says San Mateo County Counsel John Beiers.
All told, more than 1,300 cities, counties, tribes, hospitals, and insurance companies in the United States have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers. San Mateo’s suit will be transferred to U.S. District Court in Cleveland, Ohio, where Judge Dan Polster has the fun task of overseeing all the lawsuits filed against Big Pharma and moving them forward. An initial trial on the suits filed by several Ohio counties is set to start in October.