Texas county becomes 1st in state to sue over opioid crisis

The lawsuit alleges the pharma companies used deceptive marketing practices to tout the benefits of opioids for chronic pain

By Arnessa Garrett
The Dallas Morning News

UPSHUR COUNTY, Texas — The county of Upshur announced Wednesday that it was suing more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in the crisis of opioid addiction that has taxed the resources of cities and states across the country.

It is so far the first governmental body in Texas to sue over opioids, but cities such as Cincinnati and Louisville have filed lawsuits as well as four counties in New York, two counties in California, and a handful of other counties. States are also lining up to sue, with the count so far at six, including New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina, according to Bloomberg. 

The Upshur County case was filed Sept. 29 in the U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, and names Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical, Abbott Laboratories, Allergan, Pfizer, and McKesson as defendants, among others. 

The lawsuit alleges the companies used deceptive marketing practices to tout the benefits of opioids for chronic pain, including using third parties who were seemingly independent but were actually funded by the companies.

The county is being represented by Dallas firm of  Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett. The firm also represents six counties in East Texas, and additional lawsuits are expected, a news release said.

"While the pharmaceutical industry pulls in huge profits, local governments are bearing the weight of these industry marketing and sales tactics, having to find a way to pay for increased health care and community services, such as courts, child services, treatment centers and law enforcement," said Jeffrey Simon, co-founder of the firm, in the release.

Some experts say litigation against Big Pharma over the opioid crisis could rival similar cases against Big Tobacco in the 90s, which ended with attorneys generals from 46 states winning a settlement of more than $200 billion from large tobacco companies over the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. 

Texas has not yet said whether it will sue pharmaceutical companies, but Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined a bipartisan group of attorneys general in a multi-state investigation into the role the drugmakers may have played in the opioid crisis. 

Copyright 2017 The Dallas Morning News

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