Jeffrey B. Simon, from the firm of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett in Dallas, is the lead attorney working on behalf of the Upshur County District Attorney’s Office.
“Upshur County has spent a lot of money to combat the opioid epidemic,” says Simon. “This epidemic, the county contends, is largely the result of the irresponsible marketing of these drugs. The county believes it is entitled to be reimbursed by an industry that has created a miserable and expensive epidemic.
“Because you have a smaller population and a smaller tax base you have fewer resources to deal with these problems, but the costs of treating an opioid epidemic are no less in a smaller county than a larger county. The costs represent a large portion of the county’s budget,” says Simon.
The Upshur County joins a growing list of city, county and state governments that have filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in the US that manufacture and market potent narcotics like OxyContin, Vicodin, Opana, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone, Avinza, Fentanyl, Fentora, Duragesic, Ultram, and Ultracet, as well as generic versions of the drugs such as oxymorphone and hydrocodone.
The use of opioids has increased dramatically in the US over the last 15 years and is considered an epidemic. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the number of deaths overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled. Between 2000 and 2015 more than a half a million people died from drug overdoses and the CDC reports 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed against drug companies, including the statement of claim from Upshur County, claim the costs of dealing with addiction is costing local and state governments millions and millions of dollars.
“There are published studies that put the cost of national epidemic at $78.5 billion annually in a nation with 325 million people. It manifests itself in many forms but broadly speaking it is in healthcare costs, in criminal justice costs and in lost workforce productivity,” says Simon. “This county has all those problems associated with the opioid epidemic.”
The Upshur County 58 page statement of claim alleges the drug companies, named as defendants in the lawsuit, launched a concerted campaign to change public opinion and lead consumers and doctors to believe that narcotics were an appropriate treatment for common pain management issues and deliberately downplayed the addictive properties of narcotics even though they knew those claims to be false.
“Opioids can be used safely and effectively in limited circumstances we contend. It can be used short term for intense pain in a post-operative setting, or for major physical trauma, or for palliative care of the terminally ill,” says Jeffrey B. Simon.
“However, the idea that they are a safe and effective way to deal with chronic pain associated with the back, or knee or carpel tunnel syndrome, we argue, has never been true.”
Attorney Simon is Texan born and raised. He says seeing the communities devastated by the effects of the opioid epidemic is “heartbreaking”.
“It is difficult to stand by and watch this – so we aren’t,” says Simon.
The causes of action include creating a public nuisance, common fraud, negligence and gross negligence, unjust enrichment and RICO violations.
Named defendants in the lawsuit are: