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Colorado Cities and Counties File Federal Lawsuit Against Opioid Manufacturers

DENVER – Denver and sixteen Colorado local governments filed suit against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court on Friday, alleges that the jurisdictions continue to suffer the consequences of the companies’ aggressive marketing and excessive distribution of prescription opioids, while deliberately downplaying the significant risks of addiction and overdose.

“These companies knew better, and they still allowed the devastation to occur in our communities, and communities across the United States,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “This crisis could have and should have been avoided. So, we’re using every legal tool available to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors liable for the social and economic devastation their actions have caused in our cities, our counties and to our people.”

The City and County of Denver itself has had devastating impacts because of this epidemic. According to the Office of the Medical Examiner, between 2008 and 2017, 870 residents of Denver lost their lives to opioid-related overdoses. The opioid crisis caused by Defendants has affected nearly every public entity in Denver.

See attached lawsuit filing, litigation summery and background on the opioid crisis, and effects of the opioid crisis on Denver public entities

“The over-prescription and (mis)use of opioids is taking a toll on the country, resulting in death, visits to the emergency room, hospital stays, and unmeasurable pain felt by those who have become addicted to these drugs as well as their families and communities. The opioid epidemic is one of the largest public health issues we face,” said Bob McDonald, Public Health Administrator for Denver and Executive Director of Public Health & Environment.

Led by the City and County of Denver, the Colorado municipal coalition of Plaintiffs also includes: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Fremont, Larimer and Teller counties; the City and County of Broomfield; the municipalities of Aurora, Black Hawk, Commerce City, Hudson, Northglenn and Westminster; and the Tri-County Health Department. Jefferson County and the City of Thornton have also filed similar, but separate complaints.

The lawsuit will join over 1,500 cases filed on behalf of counties and cities nationwide. The Plaintiffs seek to hold the defendants accountable for the far-ranging effects of the opioid epidemic on their residents and budgets.

Defendant’s Misconduct

The complaint contains the following causes of action against all Defendants:

  • Public Nuisance
  • Violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, C.R.S. § 6-1, et seq.
  • Negligence
  • Gross Negligence
  • Unjust Enrichment
  • Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq.
  • Fraud and Deceit
  • Civil Conspiracy

This crisis did not happen by accident. It was created by deliberate and systematic practices of pharmaceutical companies that, over approximately the last 20 years, provided false and misleading information to doctors and patients about the safety and effectiveness of prescription opioids.

Drug manufacturers told doctors that when opioids were prescribed to treat pain, the risk of addiction was very low, and that any physical dependence would be easy to overcome. They also touted prescription opioids as a safe and effective way to treat long-term and chronic pain, even though no data existed to demonstrate the safety of these highly addictive drugs over the long term.

The lack of evidence for the defendants’ statements about opioid use for chronic pain was confirmed by, among other things, the 2016 Guideline published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After conducting a systematic review of all available evidence, the CDC concluded there was no evidence that opioids were effective at addressing long-term or chronic pain, and that the data demonstrate a significant risk of harm that increases with dose.

In addition, all entities that were part of the sale and distribution of opioids – including the three primary wholesale distributors of prescription opioids, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson – flooded the country with pills, ignored red flags indicating that opioids were being diverted for illicit uses, and proactively sought to increase the volume of opioids they shipped to communities across the United States.

The complaint alleges claims against the following defendants:

  • Purdue Pharma, L.P.
  • Purdue Pharma, Inc.
  • The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.
  • Endo Health Solutions Inc.
  • Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Johnson & Johnson;
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries, Ltd.
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
  • Cephalon, Inc.
  • Allergan plc f/k/a Actavis plc
  • Allergan Finance, LLC f/k/a Actavis, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Watson Laboratories, Inc.
  • Actavis, LLC
  • Actavis Pharma, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc
  • Mallinckrodt plc
  • Mallinckrodt, LLC
  • SpecGX, LLC
  • Cardinal Health, Inc.
  • McKesson Corporation
  • AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation