Huerfano County suing big drug companies for false advertising over opioid safety

HUERFANO COUNTY, Colo. -- A county in southern Colorado is suing a handful of major pharmaceutical companies, claiming they are responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic in their community.

Huerfano County filed a lawsuit Sunday against Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma L.P. and McKesson Corp.

The lawsuit alleges the companies knowingly distributed false advertising to doctors and patients, claiming opioid medications are safer than they really are.

“Each defendant began a sophisticated marketing and distribution scheme premised on deception to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used to treat chronic pain,” the lawsuit said.

According to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health, Huerfano County leads the state in the number of patients visiting emergency rooms and the number of hospitalizations from prescription opioid overdose.

However, the state admits the statistics might be inaccurate, misleading and inherently bias because of limited data.

Still, Huerfano County says prescription painkillers have caused a public health crisis in the community.

According to the lawsuit, the county has seen a steep increase in crime, homelessness and diseases stemming from drug use. It blames the drug companies for all of it.

“The explosion in opioid prescriptions and use caused by the defendants has led to a public health crisis in Colorado. Colorado faces skyrocketing opioid and opioid-related overdoses and deaths as well as devastating social and economic consequences,” the lawsuit says.

“The widespread use of opioids has created a population of patients physically and psychologically dependent on them.”

According to the lawsuit, Huerfano County wants prescription drug companies to stop “unlawful promotion and distribution of opioids, to correct their misrepresentations and to abate the public nuisance they have created.”

The county is also seeking $750,000 in tax money spent fixing problems associated with the opioid epidemic. It is also asking the court for an additional $1.5 million for future costs.

Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a trade association representing defendants McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, said the distributors are helping regulate the industry.

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders," senior vice president John Parker said in a statement.

"Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated.

"Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

HDA said its members do not prescribe, dispense or in any way, drive demand. Distributors also report every opioid order to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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