11 Illinois towns file lawsuit over opioid crisis

Thursday, May 24, 2018
11 Illinois towns file lawsuit over opioid crisis
Eleven Illinois towns filed a lawsuit Wednesday against multiple pharmaceutical companies and three doctors for their role in the opioid epidemic.

Eleven Illinois villages and cities filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and three Illinois doctors who allegedly prescribed medication contributing to the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court, which is part of a legal strategy to keep the case in Illinois, said Alfred Murray, the plaintiffs' attorney.

The lawsuit is "unique and different" when compared to other lawsuits across the country, Murray said. He believes naming the doctors will keep it in Illinois courts.

"The impact of the epidemic is certainly felt by Illinois families and communities, so we think the lawsuit should proceed locally as well," Murray said.

The lawsuit names 29 defendants, including three local doctors who have had their physicians' licenses suspended or revoked. According to the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, Paul Madison's license has been suspended; William John McMahon's license is permanently inactive; and Joseph Giacchino's license has been revoked. ABC 7 EyeWitness News was not able to reach any of the doctors for comment.

A spokeswoman for Endo, a pharmaceutical company named in the lawsuit, did respond via email: "We deny the allegations contained in this lawsuit and intend to vigorously defend the Company." Janssen Pharmaceuticals also responded in a statement, saying in part that "allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among this class of medications."

The plaintiffs include Melrose Park, Bellwood, Berkeley, Berwyn, Chicago Heights, Hillside, Northlake, Oak Lawn, Pekin, River Forest and Tinley Park.

Murray said keeping the case local is important, and they will fight any effort to push it into a federal courtroom in Ohio, where dozens of cases have been consolidated before one federal judge. Oak Lawn's mayor said fighting to keep the case in Illinois is critical because the epidemic impacts communities in our state.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said the village is seeking to cover the expensive costs of the opioid epidemic.

"People have profited billions of dollars on the opioid epidemic, and they continue to do so today. We are just trying to make our communities whole," Bury said. "We're struggling for the resources to manage this epidemic, little alone mitigate it. So this is standing shoulder to shoulder as a group."

Last year, Oak Lawn Police responded to 17 calls for overdoses, which included saving 9 lives, said Police Chief Randy Palmer, adding that it takes money to train the officers and to buy Naloxone medicine to save someone.

"Now my officers are doing medical procedures in the field....to where we used to wait for the fire department," the chief said. "But a life-and-death situation like this, we felt it was important to train our people."

Oak Lawn officials said each dose of Naloxone costs $4,300. The mayor said the village received a $123,000 grant to cover the initial costs of launching the life-saving program, but she is concerned about the costs in the future too.

"We're looking at ways to maybe get mental health support in the community, resources in our schools, educate physicians, in addition to taking care of our responders' needs," she said.


The lawsuit is one of several nationwide, as well as in Illinois.

In December, state's attorneys from DuPage, Lake, Will, McHenry and Kane counties filed 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.

Also in December, 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.