Counties, Cities and States' Causes of Action Against the Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors

Jonathan P. Novak

With the federal government’s well-documented stalling out and failure in its efforts to halt the Opioid Epidemic, many counties, states, Native American tribes, and other public entities are pursuing civil litigation against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid controlled substances. These lawsuits seek to hold the manufacturers and distributors directly accountable for purposefully deceiving the public about the addictive nature of long-term opioid use, and for deliberately perpetuating widespread addiction and drug abuse across the country in the name of profit.

The Opioid Epidemic is upon us all, and its effects ripple throughout society. In 2016, an estimated 63,800 Americans lost their lives to overdoses, primarily from opioid controlled substances. According to the recently released data from the CDC, in 2017 the number increased yet again to 72,000.

At a time when the DEA should be counteracting this trend by increasing its regulatory enforcement actions, instead, the agency stumbles forward with staggeringly low numbers of enforcement actions.  In fact, for every year since 2012, there have been fewer actions than the preceding year.  At a time when Americans desperately need the assistance of the federal government, the DEA seems more interested in friendly negotiations and forming agreements with the opioid manufacturers and distributors, in the apparent hope that the perpetrators of the Opioid Epidemic will finally play nice and comply with the law.

They won’t. And, as a society, we are left to deal with the aftermath of their wrongdoing.

The Opioid Epidemic is first measured in the cost of life. Every year since 1998, the number of deaths in America from overdoses has increased, skyrocketing to its current levels with no decrease or even a plateau in sight.  

But the costs of the Opioid Epidemic are not just measured in deaths.  Counties, cities, and ultimately taxpayers across the country are forced to bear additional costs to stem the tide.  Law enforcement and first responders are now required to carry Narcan for use in overdose emergencies.  Yet the cost of the Narcan as well as the additional training required is a cost solely paid by the county or city. Not the state, and not the federal government.

These actual costs permeate social strata.  In some counties, more than 30% of the eligible workforce is now on disability and a long-term opioid prescription.  In some areas, more than 25% of the babies born each year are born already addicted to opioids.  A new orphan epidemic has emerged as hospitals, unable send a baby born home to opioid-addicted parents, can find no suitable member of the family who is able to pass a urine drug screen. 
The CDC reports that 83% of current heroin users started on legally prescribed opioid controlled substances.  So counties are now being forced to establish drug courts to deal with all of these additional drug-related crimes, including dealing, possession, and property crime.  Counties and cities are hiring more law enforcement officers, more EMS, more prosecutors, all to deal with the rising tide of crime associated with opioid addiction.

The Opioid Epidemic costs counties and cities billions of dollars each year; costs borne by ultimately by the taxpayers, the very citizens who provide the manufacturers and distributors of these drugs with such unimaginable profits and wealth through manipulated marketing leading to widespread prescribing and addiction.  While the poorest communities in this country wither away, dying from overdoses and from the side effects of a community ravaged by addiction, the very perpetrators of the Opioid Epidemic are treated to a cushy seat at the table to convince the DEA and the federal government about how they never knew opioids were addictive, and they are doing everything they can to stem this tide, all while the citizens pick up the costly tab. 
Given the failures of the DEA and the federal government to protect our communities, many states, counties, cities, and other public entities are taking it into their own hands and seeking representation to file civil lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of these drugs in an effort to turn the tide in the fight against the Opioid Epidemic.  These lawsuits --hundreds already filed across the nation-- seek damages not only for compensation of the untold costs paid by taxpayers as a direct result of the increased crime, death, and unemployment due to opioid addiction, but also to fix the problem by having these companies pay to make things right, to reeducate our doctors, our parents, our teachers, and our children about the real dangers and of these drugs. 
But these progressive changes, while integral for fighting the Opioid Epidemic, all require incredible costs.  Public entities are pursuing this litigation against these companies not only to make good for the wrongs they’ve done, but to request those companies to help to correct the problems they created.  The awards from these lawsuits allow counties to build new, progressive, long-term treatment facilities to help their citizens recovering from addiction to return to being productive and healthy members of the community.  New programs are being implemented to educate physicians on the true dangers of prescribing opioids, and to revoke policies related to insurance payouts directly tied to patient feedback.  Children are now being taught the dangers of opioid drugs, and the risk of recreational opioid use.  Law enforcement officers are now being trained in new methods of assisting opioid drug addicts and given input on how we might change the justice system to seek aid instead of simply penalty.

Unfortunately, it seems the federal government refuses to step up to protect our people.  And so we must protect ourselves and our own.  Even with years of representing the DEA and the United States of America in cases against these very companies, it is only through this localized civil litigation that I feel citizens can truly take a stand by forcing the actual perpetrators to make amends for the damage they’ve wrought. 
My team is pursuing litigation against these manufacturers and distributors across the country, and we would be happy to come and speak further about how the litigation works and the expertise we bring on behalf of our clients.  If you are interested in discussing the potential for your city, county, state, municipality, native tribe, or other public entity to pursue this litigation, please contact me directly.

Mr. Novak is a former attorney for the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.  Jonathan is now working nationwide representing public entities, including counties, cities, and Native American tribes, in litigation against manufacturers and distributors of opioid controlled substances, as well as providing education and legal guidance on state and federal controlled substance regulations.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding regulatory compliance, state or federal enforcement action on your controlled substance or pharmacy registration, or if you represent a public entity interested in learning more about potential litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors, please contact Jonathan directly ([email protected] )

This blog is for informational purposes only and meant to provide general insight and commentary; it is not meant to convey specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship of any kind. The information contained in this blog is opinion based and should not be used as a substitute for skilled legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.