Martinsville files lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

The City of Martinsville announced this week it would sue multiple opioid manufacturers, joining a wave of similar lawsuits from across the country and state, including here in Bloomington.

Defendants in the suit include Purdue Pharma, Cephalon Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Actavis Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Mallinckrodt PLC.

“The opioid epidemic did not happen by accident,” the city wrote in its lawsuit.

The city alleges the epidemic was caused by manufacturers using misleading marketing, encouraging doctors to prescribe opioids for long-term pain relief and downplaying the possible risks of prescribing opioids.

The opioid prescription rate in Morgan County, where Martinsville is located, hit 110.9 per 100 persons in 2016, significantly above the median rate for states, 82.5, according to the lawsuit.

The number of nonfatal opioid-related emergency visits has also steadily increased in Morgan County since 2011. In 2015, the city saw about 95 emergency visits per 100,000 people. 

Bloomington and Monroe County joined a similar class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers in December 2017.

Like the Martinsville suit, the Bloomington lawsuit alleges false marketing by manufacturers, among other claims.

"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," IU alumnus and Indianapolis attorney Richard Shevitz said to the IDS in 2017. "That medical approach left a very narrow market for these opioids ... opioids were not used for common back pain, workplace injuries, sports injuries and that kind of thing."

Hundreds of other state and local lawsuits have been filed across the country in recent months. 

Many cases, including the lawsuit Bloomington joined, were consolidated in Ohio into a multidistrict litigation, which aims to simplify the process of resolving similar, complex cases by bringing them before one judge in one district.

In February, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an opioid task force and support for the Ohio litigation.

“We are also ordering the task force to examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine if we can be of assistance,” Sessions said. 

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