Bloomington, Monroe County joining class action suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors



The City of Bloomington and Monroe County announced on Wednesday they would be joining a class action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

The suit, in part, claims false marketing by manufacturers and a failure to stop suspicious shipments by distributors. 

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners were joined at the press conference at the Monroe County Courthouse by attorney Richard Shevitz, an IU alumnus and partner at Indianapolis law firm Cohen & Malad.

"In the past the view of the medical profession toward opioids was the view that we all hold — they're dangerous and they're addictive," Shevitz said. "That medical approach left a very narrow market for these opioids. They were used for acute pain after surgery, or end-of-life care for people who had been suffering from cancer. But opioids were not used for common back pain, workplace injuries, sports injuries and that kind of thing."

Opioid manufacturers realized that they could expand their market by promoting its use for treatment toward more common and chronic ailments, Shevitz said. This has been a large contributor to the nation's opioid epidemic. 

"These potential defendants spread the false message that opioids were safe for chronic pain, and not addictive," Hamilton said. 

A large portion of those who struggle with addiction became addicted from actual prescriptions. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that in 2014 the top two opioid pharmaceuticals in the U.S., hydrocodone and oxycodone, accounted for a total of 12.7 billion pills prescribed.

"The lawsuit is just one tool," commissioner Amanda Barge said. "In fact, in 2017 the commissioners pledged to all of you that we would do everything we could do to reverse this epidemic. We're tired of hearing about people dying."

The lawsuit represents cities and counties all over the state. In September, Scott County filed its own suit against manufacturers. More than 100 cities, states and other public entities have filed opioid-related lawsuits this year alone.

The lawsuit Bloomington and Monroe County announced its plans to join implicates at least seven manufacturers and three distributors of opioid pharmaceuticals. Manufacturers included as potential defendants include Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals. 

Purdue is the manufacturer of Oxycontin, a brand name for oxycodone. The company has faced legal action for the better part of the last two decades for its role in producing these powerful opioids. 

The distributors implicated in this suit are McKesson,  AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health.

Manufacturers and distributors have faced fines in the past, but Shevitz said on Wednesday that these fines went to the federal government, not to the communities that have been affected by the epidemic. 

County Commissioner Patrick Stoffers said at the press conference that while there was no "magic bullet" solution to this issue, he was glad those present were taking action to fight for their citizenry. 

"One party that's not here right now, it seems, is the state of Indiana," Stoffers said. "I'm not sure what they're waiting on."

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