New York City sues eight opioid producers, distributors

New York City sues eight opioid producers, distributors
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New York City on Tuesday sued multiple drug companies, alleging they played an instrumental role in creating the deadly opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit — filed against eight companies that make or distribute prescription opioids — seeks $500 million in damages to help the city combat the opioid epidemic. 

“Big Pharma helped to fuel this epidemic by deceptively peddling these dangerous drugs and hooking millions of Americans in exchange for profit,” Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said in a news release. “It’s time for hold the companies accountable for what they’ve done to our City, and help save more lives.”

In 2016, more than 1,000 people in New York City died of a drug overdose involving opioids, the highest yearly rate to date, according to the release. The litigation, announced Tuesday, comes as other cities and states have filed similar lawsuits.

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The lawsuit alleges that manufacturers misrepresented the safety of using painkillers long term and that distributors supplied too many opioids, which enabled the pills to be sold illegally. In turn, this allegedly has created a “substantial burden” on the city, the lawsuit states, because it has had to increase treatment services, law enforcement costs, medical examiner costs and more, according to the release.  

The defendants are manufacturers Allergan PLC, Endo International PLC, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., and distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.

Several companies that responded to a request for comment pushed back against the allegations.

Endo said in a statement that, “It is Endo's policy not to comment on current litigation. That said, we deny the allegations contained in this lawsuit and intend to vigorously defend the Company.” The company noted it had voluntarily stopped opioid promotion, among other efforts.

Purdue Pharma also denied the allegations, saying in a statement that it "[looks] forward to the opportunity to present our defense” and is “dedicated to being part of the solution.”

Sarah Freeman — a spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson — wrote in a statement that “We maintain that the allegations made in these lawsuits against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. Our actions in the marketing and promotion of our opioid pain medicines were appropriate and responsible.”

Allergan also sought to put its role into context.

“Allergan’s two branded opioid products – Norco and Kadian – account for less than 0.08% of all opioid products prescribed in 2016 in the U.S. These products came to Allergan through legacy acquisitions and have not been promoted since 2012, in the case of Kadian, and since 2003, in the case of Norco,” it said in a statement.   

AmerisourceBergen said in a statement that, “Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of tens of thousands of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type, and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute.” 

Teva said, "Teva is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines, and we recognize the critical public health issues impacting communities across the U.S. as a result of illegal drug use as well as the misuse and abuse of opioids that are available legally by prescription.”