PATERSON, NJ- Just weeks after local pharmacy owner Warren Cortese joined forces with the body that governs high school athletics in the State of New Jersey to reduce the use opioids by young athletes, the City of Paterson announced that it has filed a lawsuit against some of the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies and distributors.
The defendants, according to the suit, have engaged in a campaign of misinformation to mislead the public about the effects and dangers of prescription opioids and include a number of big-name drug manufacturers including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson.
Also named in the suit are several distribution corporations including McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health.
The suit claims that these companies colluded in misleading the public on the true nature of their products through inaccurate articles in medical journals, unsupported literature, the employment of established physicians to substantiate their compromised research, and the publicizing of incorrect statements. This decades-long campaign was allegedly modeled on the success of similar efforts made in the past by tobacco companies in duping the public about the harmful effects of their products.
Explaining why he felt the suit needed to be filed David Scott, managing partner at Scott+Scott, the law firm handling the complaint, said that “the pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesale distributors must be held responsible for their actions, which are the root cause of so much human and financial loss.”
Declared a public health emergency by President Trump on Thursday, the opioid epidemic has left a wake of devastation as it has spread across communities all over the country for the past 20 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of opioid related deaths has more than quadrupled since 1999, turning overdose into the leading cause of death of Americans under 50.
Much of this crisis coincides with the increased use of synthetic alternatives. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 80 percent of heroin users tried prescription opioids before switching to the real thing. In 2015, over one-third of the US population took a legitimately prescribed opioid.
Paterson has been hit especially hard by opioid use. In 2016, the New Jersey Department of Human Services reported 1096 opioid related admissions to drug treatment providers in Paterson, the second largest figure in the state. The city believes that this disproportionate impact has taken a massive toll on its citizens and its workforce of approximately 1600 public employees including police officers, firefighters, and first responders.
“This lawsuit seeks to hold responsible those companies whose practices created a crisis that has drained the coffers of cities like Paterson, which operates on meager resources but is relied on to provide critical, life-saving services,” says Domenick Stampone, the city's corporation counsel.
Councilman William McKoy lamented the fact that Paterson has served as a hub for those looking to purchase drugs or seek treatment, dropping an immense burden on the city's doorstep. “The lawsuit is a signal and a cry to highlight the problem” of opioid use. “We are sending a message that drug makers must help us find a solution.”
Paterson joins a growing list of New Jersey cities filing or exploring similar lawsuits against drug manufacturers including Newark, Toms River, and Brick.
Earlier this month, New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino announced a lawsuit against manufacturer Insys Therapeutics, Inc, which was also named in the Paterson suit. Further complaints are expected as the Porrino’s office continues its probe into the crisis.