At 10 am at Harborview Medical Center, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes will announce "a major lawsuit against one of the largest opioid manufacturers," according to Ferguson's office.
At least 25 other states, cities, and counties—including attorneys general in Ohio and Missouri—have filed similar suits.
Washington state had 692 opiate-related deaths in 2015, according to data from the University of Washington. While deaths from prescription-type opioids peaked between 2008 and 2010, heroin deaths continue to increase, according to the UW researchers.
In King County last year, drug-use deaths hit a record high at 332. Of those, 219 were related to opioid use, including heroin, pharmaceuticals, and a category researchers call "non-heroin-non-pharmaceutical." (That last category includes synthetic opioids and fentanyl; deaths related to those drugs rose last year.) According to UW, 118 people in the county died from heroin involved deaths and 107 from deaths involving prescription-type opioids in 2016. Heroin deaths were down slightly from 2015 in King County, but prescription-type opioid deaths were up from the previous two years.
We'll update this post with more information about the lawsuit once it's announced.
UPDATE: Ferguson and Holmes said today they are pursuing two separate lawsuits, both naming Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.
The state argues that company misled doctors in its marketing, downplaying the risks of prescribing opioids.
“Purdue has made billions of dollars…. by knowingly deceiving doctors and the public,” Ferguson said today. The lawsuit alleges the company knowingly overstated how effective its drugs were for treating pain and understated their risk of addiction.
“People came in showing signs of addiction and Purdue’s response was that’s not addiction, give them more,” Ferguson said.
Rose Dennis, whose son was diagnosed with leukemia at age 12 and then spent nine months receiving opioids by IV drip, said her son became addicted. “It was never mentioned to us that one of the side effects of his cancer would be opioid addiction,” Dennis said.
Ferguson said the state will seek a “very significant” amount of money from the company. “I don’t know how executives at Purdue Pharma sleep at night,” he said.
The city’s case makes similar allegations again Purdue. It also names a list of other pharmaceutical companies and Seattle Pain Center, a chain of clinics that shut down last year after allegations that the head doctor did not properly manage and oversee patients’ opiate use.
“There is no question that a significant number of Seattle residents suffer from chronic pain, which takes an enormous toll on their health, lives and families,” Holmes writes in the city’s complaint. Opioid manufacturers’ “deceptive marketing campaign deprived patients and their doctors of the ability to make informed medical decisions and, instead, caused important, sometimes life-or-death decisions to be made based not on science, but on hype. Patients have suffered enormously as a result.”
Holmes also linked Seattle’s homelessness crisis to opioid production. The city spends more than $50 million a year on homelessness and its firefighters and parks staff, among others, encounter needles and people using drugs, Holmes said. A recent city survey of people experiencing homelessness found that 55 percent of respondents reported using drugs or alcohol and 13 percent said drug or alcohol abuse was the primary cause of their homelessness.
“Unlike earthquakes and hurricanes, this disaster is a human made crisis,” Holmes said of the opiate epidemic. “We know this is motivated by profit and greed.”
In a statement, Purdue said, “We vigorously deny these allegations.”
“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution,” the company said. “As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge.”