TUCSON — Pima County and the City of Tucson have filed lawsuits against over 20 companies that manufacture and distribute opioids in an effort to combat the ongoing opioid crisis on Thursday, January 17.
The lawsuits allege that these manufacturers and distributors intentionally concentrated their efforts to expand the opioid market for profit through deceptive ways and also failed to report suspicious orders to proper authorities.
Specifically, a press release from the county and city says the companies were "misleading consumers and medical providers through misrepresentations or omissions regarding the appropriate uses, risks, and safety of opioids."
It also states that these companies failed to "take adequate steps to monitor the distribution and sale of opioids."
The aim of the lawsuits is to gain a court order to block the listed business practices and to recover expenditures used to combat the crisis, which include costs of emergency services, healthcare, criminal justice, victim services and a variety of social costs.
Former opioid addict Brendan Bond has a perspective on the damage the drugs can do. He says, "We weren't bad people. I had a job. I graduated high school. I have a good family you know. I wasn't raised in a household that used drugs but because of some of the people I hung out with and their prescriptions I got into it."
Bond says prescription opioids seemed more acceptable somehow and overprescribing meant they were flowing so freely they spilled out for sale on the street where they fueled addictions it took him 16 years to beat.
"But it happens to anybody. It can happen to anybody. I've seen people of all varieties of life get addicted, sex, whatever your employment is. I've seen all kinds, lawyers, police officers."
The lawsuits by the city of Tucson and Pima County say drug makers used heavy advertising, and gave incentives to doctors to sell other doctors on the idea that opioids could manage pain with little risk of addiction.
Now Brendan Bond and Dan Barden help break addictions at CODAC. Barden says they see 150 to 200 people a month who say they have the sort of addiction problem drug makers did not say much about.
"The pharmacy reps talk about the benefits, didn't deny or didn't say that it was a non addictive medication, but never acknowledged the potential for addiction when they did the education. That's, that's the message I get from the prescribers as I talked to the prescribers that's what they heard.”
Assistant County Administrator Doctor Francisco Garcia says Pima County is suing to force drug makers to change how they market opioids, and recover addiction costs that affect all of us.
"There are real costs associated with the treatment of these folks. There are real costs that are born by the public purse by you and I through the taxes that we pay that support programs like Medicaid and Medicare which end up being the major payers for folks who are addicted and are substance involved."
Doctor Garcia expects the Pima County and City of Tucson suits to merge with other lawsuits other government have already filed.
He hopes suing will also compel the drug companies to pay for addiction prevention programs to stop addictions before they can even begin to destroy lives.
Among those who received a lawsuit, Pima County's Purdue Pharma and Insys Therapeutics are listed. The two companies mass distribute opioid drugs across the nation and within Pima County.
In a Pima County Press release, the effort cites the Food and Drug Administration's 2016 declaration of the opioid crisis and Governor Doug Ducey's Declaration of Statewide Health Emergency made in 2017.
At the time of Ducey's declaration, the Arizona Department of Health Services found that, in 2016, 790 Arizonans died from the opioids, which pointed to a 74 percent increase in opioid deaths across four years.
In December of 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the opioid crisis had worsened, with rising numbers and more deaths being linked to fentanyl than heroin.