Opioid lawsuits: Several Illinois counties sue drug companies, doctors; blame them for deadly drug crisis

ByCraig Wall WLS logo
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Several counties in Illinois sue drug companies over opioids
Several counties in Illinois are suing pharmaceutical companies and physicians over the consequences of excessive opioid use.

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (WLS) -- Several counties in Illinois are suing pharmaceutical companies and physicians over the consequences of excessive opioid use.

State's Attorneys from DuPage, Lake, Will, McHenry and Kane counties are banding together to file lawsuits against several major pharmaceutical companies and several doctors alleging they are to blame for the opioid crisis that has claimed hundreds of lives in recent years.

The lawsuits accuse the defendants of using a deliberate and intentionally fraudulent marketing campaigns to encourage the use of opioids for long term pain management. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, opioids contributed to nearly 1,200 deaths in 2016.

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said prescription pain killers like OxyContin were originally developed for cancer patients for short term pain treatment. Doctors, believing the drugs were safe, prescribed them and in many cases created drug addicts, McMahon said. The States Attorneys said many of those prescription drug addicts eventually turn to heroin.

The lawsuits allege the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of doctors, patients, health care providers and health care payers that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe, and the drugs' benefits outweighed the risks.

"The source of this crisis is not on street corners but in board rooms," said Mike Nerheim, Lake County State's Attorney.

The lawsuits are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars that the counties spend each year to combat drug related crimes, and the public nuisance created by the companies' deceptive marketing campaigns. The lawsuits also cite the millions of dollars spent each year for health care costs from prescription opioid dependency.

The marketing practices used by the pharmaceutical companies "misrepresented the danger" according to Chris Lauzen, Kane County Board Chairman, who likened these campaigns to the ones used by tobacco companies.

There will be no legal costs to taxpayers. Private law firms who are representing the counties will receive 25 percent of whatever money is recovered as payment. The lawsuits are expected to take years to wind through the courts.

"We don't expect to lose," said James Glasgow, Will County State's Attorney.

Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Abbott Laboratories; Abbott Laboratories, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Dr. Perry Fine; Dr. Scott Fishman and Dr. Lynn Webster, are all defendants in the lawsuit filed by Kankakee County.

Cook County files lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

Cook County officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday against pharmaceutical companies over opioid painkillers.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx filed the lawsuit against several opioid manufacturers. Cook County officials cited aggressive marketing of opioids that resulted in a rise in overdose and fatality rates. The county is seeking compensatory and punitive damages to cover opioid treatment programs, costs to treat overdose patients and an increase in autopsies.

County data show there were about 650 opioid deaths in 2015, rising 70 percent to more than 1,090 in 2016. There have been about 850 deaths in 2017 as of the beginning of December.

Similar lawsuits have been filed around the U.S. and companies being sued have said they're already taking steps to curb opioid abuse.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.