WILLIAMSPORT – Columbia County has joined other municipalities and states that have or are considering suing drug manufacturers contending they have been a contributing factor to the opioid crisis.
Its suit filed Thursday in U.S. Middle District Court comes one day after Luzerne County did the same thing. A number of counties are considering suits, according to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
The 17 manufacturers and wholesale distributors named as defendants in the Columbia County suit are accused of engaging in false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or the unlawful diversion of prescription opiate drugs.
The county claims the opioid epidemic is directly related to the misuse of pain medications.
The 210-page complaint states opiate drugs have been prescribed at a higher rate in Columbia County over the past five years than the national or Pennsylvania averages.
It cites documentation that in 2016 the prescription rate in the county was 80.7 per 100 people compared with the national and state averages of 66.5 and 69.5, respectively.
The result, according to the county, has been a high rate of hospitalization for drug overdoses and a rising death toll. There were eight drug-related deaths in 2014, 16 in 2015 and 18 in 2016, the suit states.
The county accuses the defendants of conducting a market scheme designed to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain.
That results in a broader group of patients who are more likely to become addicted, it claims.
The manufacturers have falsely touted the benefits of long-term opioid use even though there is no scientific reliable evidence to support those claims, the county charges.
Its suit seeks unspecified punitive damages and the following:
- An injunction preventing the companies from engaging in the unlawful sales of prescription opioid pills.
- Compensation for past and future costs to abate the public nuisance caused by opioid epidemic.
- An order requiring the defendants to fund an “abatement fund.”
- The cost of providing medical care and treatment for those suffering from opioid addiction and for infants born with opioid-related medical conditions.
- Expenses incurred by law enforcement and public safety related to the opioid epidemic.