After rejecting a half-billion-dollar solution, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday prosecuted the state’s case against the nation’s three largest drug dealers, saying they should be held accountable for their role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Democrats released the opening statement in King County Superior Court, calling the case perhaps the most significant public health lawsuit filed by their agency.
“These companies knew what would happen if they failed to meet their obligations,” Ferguson Judge Michael Ramsay told Scott. “We know that they were aware of the harm caused by their behavior because in private correspondence, company officials ridiculed individuals who suffer the painful effects of opioid dependence.
But Ferguson’s legal strategy is not without risk, as this month’s lawsuit depicts the loss of three California counties – and the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling overturning a $ 465 million judgment against drug maker Johnson and Johnson.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson ruled on November 1 that counties and the City of Oakland did not prove that pharmaceutical companies use deceptive marketing to increase unwanted opioid prescriptions and create public nuisance. The Oklahoma verdict said the lower court had misinterpreted the state’s public nuisance law.
In the e-mail, the relevant Washington laws differ and Ferguson stressed that the cases were “apples and oranges.”
Public nuisance claims are at the heart of nearly 3,000 lawsuits brought by state and local governments against drug manufacturers, distribution companies and pharmacies. Washington is the first state to prosecute drug dealers. Ferguson is suing the public nuisance and violation of the state’s consumer protection law.
“There is always uncertainty when you take a case to trial,” he said. “However, we are confident in the strength of our case.”
The Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit in 2019 against McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health and AmeriSorsbergen, alleging that the state had made billions of money from the opioid epidemic by transporting vast amounts of prescription painkillers to the state, even though they knew it could find their way. For drug addicts and people suffering from addiction.
Ferguson is seeking tens of billions of dollars in “transformation” payments from companies to help undo the epidemic in the state of Washington, which includes more than 8,000 deaths and unexplained destruction from 2006 to 2017. The state wants $ 38 billion to pay for treatment services, criminal justice costs, public education campaigns and other programs over a 15-year period, plus billions in additional damages.
The trial is expected to last about three months.
In July, Ferguson rejected an offer of $ 527.5 million in 18 years as “woefully inadequate.” That deal would provide Washington and its 320 cities and counties about $ 30 million a year to divide. Considering inflation over the 18-year payment period, the true value of the settlement was just $ 303 million, Ferguson said.
Drug companies say they cannot be blamed for the epidemic; They only prescribed opioids as prescribed by doctors. In a trial brief filed this month, he argued that it was not his role to second-guess prescriptions or interfere with the physician-patient relationship.
Furthermore, he argued that Washington State played a large role in the epidemic. In the 1990s, lawmakers expressed concern that people suffering from chronic pain were receiving less treatment, and passed the Intractable Pain Act, which makes it easier to prescribe opioids.
“Doctors who have increased prescriptions for opioids, supported by the state’s best-known efforts to protect its residents from pain, have increased opioid delivery,” the companies wrote. “Defendants played no role in changing the quality of care, nor did the wholesaler have the expertise, obligation or ability to second-guess the doctors’ best-faith medical decisions to prescribe opioids.”
The state argues, however, that companies have a duty to maintain controls against drug diversions. Instead, they shipped so much to Washington that it was clear that they were promoting addiction: opioid sales in Washington increased by more than 500 percent between 1997 and 2011.
In 2011, 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were distributed in the state – enough for a 16-day supply for every resident, the attorney general says. In 2015, 39 counties in Washington had more than eight residents with prescriptions.
The prescription-drug epidemic has decreased with more attention and controls, and since 2010 prescription opioid deaths have halved. But since then, heroin and fentanyl deaths have skyrocketed: heroin-related deaths have increased more than optional in Washington from 2010 to 2018. Fentanyl-related deaths doubled from 2016 to 2018.
The state wrote in its trial brief that “this has been the expected outcome of user addiction, especially for those who are no longer able to afford or receive prescription opioids.” “These deaths and other heroin and fentanyl-related harm are an integral and tragic part of the opioid epidemic and public nuisance.”
About half a million Americans have died of opioid abuse since 2001, according to the federal government.
Other opioid trials rooted in public nuisance lawsuits are taking place before the jury in federal court in Cleveland and state court in New York, where there has recently been an increase in overdose deaths in New York City. The verdict is expected soon at a West Virginia judge’s hearing.
Johnson and Johnson are facing a separate lawsuit from Washington State, which is scheduled to go to trial next year.
Johnson & Johnson and three distribution companies are in the final stages of a $ 26 billion negotiation in settlements involving thousands of government lawsuits, though it could take months to get final approval.