County lawsuit against opioid manufacturers officially filed

Cochise County filed a lawsuit today in the District of Arizona federal court against the country’s largest manufacturers of prescription opioids. The lawsuit will be joined with hundreds of other similar cases across the country, which have been consolidated into multi-district litigation pending in the Northern District of Ohio.

The litigation, which also targets the three primary wholesale distributors of prescription opioids, alleges the defendants violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, and that their conduct constitutes negligence and unjust enrichment under state law.

The Board of Supervisors agreed to join the litigation in March, following a recommendation by Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, whose office is among a number of County departments impacted by the opioid crisis.

The County has retained Keller Rohrback as outside counsel on a contingency-fee basis, which means the legal firm will take a percentage of any financial awards if it wins the case. Keller Rohrback is a nationally recognized law company based in Seattle, with an office in Phoenix, which routinely litigates the largest corporate defendants in the United States.

The lawsuit aims to recover some of the costs borne by government organizations dealing with opioid addiction through court cases, health programs, public safety personnel, and jails. Other municipalities across the country have filed similar litigation seeking to hold manufacturers and distributors liable for the harm inflicted upon communities and the financial burden placed on taxpayers.

“This crisis has been created by the deliberate and systematic practices of these pharmaceutical companies in providing false and misleading information to doctors and patients about the safety and efficacy of prescription opioids over approximately the last 20 years,” said Civil Deputy County Attorney Christine Roberts, on behalf of the County Attorney’s Office.

In 2014, 7.7 million prescription opioids were dispensed in Cochise County, and the rise in prescriptions was followed closely by an increase in heroin use. Once patients can no longer obtain prescriptions opioids some turn to heroin, often leading them to commit crimes to support their habit.

“Arizona has the 12th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States,” added Roberts. “Between 2011 and 2015, there was an average of 10 opioid-related deaths per year in Cochise County. Opioid-related overdoses are one of the leading causes of death in the United States, surpassing fatal vehicle accidents.”