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California Governments Take Drugmakers To Court Over Opioid Crisis

Be.Futureproof / Flickr

Be.Futureproof / Flickr

Updated May 10, 5:17 p.m.

From Shasta to San Diego, local governments are asking drugmakers to cover the cost of caring for opioid-addicted patients, and to pay for the public safety and law enforcement resources used to combat the crisis.

A law firm called Baron & Budd is representing 30 California counties in corporate negligence cases against major pharmaceutical companies. Several counties filed suits in federal court this week.

John Fiske, an attorney with Baron & Budd, said opioid manufacturers and distributors failed to report suspicious orders of pills going into communities. He said their “misinformation campaign” caused people to take dangerous amounts of opioids without knowledge of their addictive qualities.

There were about 2,000 opioid-related deaths in California last year.

“[The counties] are hoping to prevent future epidemic consequences such as addiction and death,” Fiske said. “And they’re also hoping to recover taxpayer dollars in order to replenish the coffers.”

The industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America declined to comment on litigation. They said in a statement that they’ve been working with major government organizations to develop “non-opioid, non-addictive pain medicines.”

Baron & Budd is representing more than 300 local governments across the U.S. — and a Native American tribe — in similar cases. If damages are not recouped, the municipalities will not be charged for legal services.

The city of Los Angeles filed its own federal lawsuit in early May. Humboldt County is also considering a suit, though they are not part of Baron & Budd’s caseload.

Jeff Blanck, county counsel for Humboldt, said rural communities have been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic

“This is a huge problem,” Blanck said. “The counties and the communities are having to pick up this expense of people who were once productive citizens becoming addicts, and losing everything and using more and more community services … it’s a vicious cycle that we’re trying to end.”

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