The Mesa County Board of Commissioners joined with more than a dozen other Colorado local governments Monday in a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its marketing and sale of several opioid medications.
The lawsuit, originally filed in federal court by 15 local governments in the Denver metropolitan area, has since been made into a class-action suit that has been consolidated with similar lawsuits elsewhere in the nation.
In it, the suit alleges that the drug manufacturer and a handful of other pharmaceutical companies are directly responsible for the opioid crisis now plaguing the nation.
"The opioid epidemic is no accident. On the contrary, it is the foreseeable consequence of defendants' reckless and misleading promotion of potent narcotics as safe and effective treatment for pain and their relentless distribution of hundreds of millions of pills into American communities when they knew or should have known those pills were being diverted to illicit use," the lawsuit reads.
"Defendant Purdue set the stage for the opioid epidemic, through the production and promotion of its blockbuster drug, OxyContin," the suit adds. "Purdue introduced a drug with a narcotic payload many times higher than that of previous prescription painkillers, while exercising a sophisticated, multi-pronged marketing campaign to change prescribers' perception of the risk of opioid addiction and to portray opioids as effective treatment for chronic pain."
The lawsuit claims the companies knew their painkillers weren't much different than heroin.
The suit isn't the first faced by the Yonkers, New York-based company. Over the past decade, Purdue has paid billions of dollars in court settlements, most recently a $270 million settlement to the state of Oklahoma.
Colorado, too, has its own lawsuit against the company, filed by then Attorney General Cynthia Coffman in September. Last month, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser expanded that suit to include members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue.
"Purdue Pharma, executives of the company and the Sackler family worked together to create, fuel and profit from the crisis we are dealing with today," Weiser said at the time. "Furthermore, the Sackler family drained Purdue of money and assets, depriving the company of funds that could be used to remedy the wrongs it perpetrated."
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, nearly 4,500 Coloradans have died in overdose deaths from 2000 to 2018. That number rises to more than 5,200 when factoring in other synthetic opioids, such as Fentanyl, which is made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, one of several other drug manufacturers that also are named in the lawsuit.
In his request to have Mesa County join the suit, County Attorney Patrick Coleman said it is necessary to ensure that the county "receives its fair share of any proceeds from any settlement or judgment that may occur in the consolidated litigation."
The suit was filed by the Seattle law firm Keller Rohrback, which has filed dozens of similar lawsuits on behalf of states and local governments nationwide. It is on a contingency basis, meaning the law firm will be paid from any settlement agreement.