GUEST COLUMN: Deceptive Drug Makers Face Erie County Lawsuit

Modified: February 6, 2017 1:59pm

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Erie County has opened a new front in the fight against opioid abuse as we seek to use every possible tool we can to stem the tide of the epidemic that claimed more than 300 lives locally in 2016. Recently I was joined by Erie County Attorney Michael Siragusa as well as our Commissioners of Health and Mental Health to announce that Erie County has filed a civil action against 11 pharmaceutical manufacturers and 4 doctors for their roles in intensifying the epidemic through deceptive acts and practices, false advertising, and fraud. In addition, these entities also profited handsomely as addiction rates and opioid-related fatalities rose across the county and the nation. It is never an easy decision to enter into a lawsuit, especially against large and well-funded companies, but this step is necessary and will put these companies and individuals on notice that their predatory practices must stop.

As the opioid epidemic has swept over Erie County, too many families have become familiar with the overpowering addiction these drugs cause, while many other people were prescribed opioid-related drugs for things such as common aches and pains. Also, many people received longer-term prescriptions than they should have, greatly increasing the likelihood of addiction. It was easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and safety about opioids, as the pharmaceutical manufacturers engaged in a long-term false advertising campaign to convince the public that they were safe, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Much like tobacco lawsuits exposed both the dangers of smoking and the duplicity of the tobacco industry, this lawsuit will demonstrate that drug makers knew the danger of these drugs but sought to profit from them nonetheless. The suit will show that the defendants misled patients and doctors about the appropriate uses, risks, and safety of opioids; that they knew opioids are too addictive and too debilitating for long-term use for chronic non-cancer pain, and that with prolonged use the effectiveness of opioids wanes, requiring increases in doses to achieve pain relief and greatly increasing the risk of significant side effects and addiction.

Yet despite having this knowledge, the defendants worked to create a false perception of opioids’ safety in the minds of medical professionals and the public. While we cannot change the past, we can hold accountable those responsible for creating this terrible nationwide epidemic. Our community has borne a terrible amount of human loss along with significant financial cost responding to the crisis. With the filing of this lawsuit we are taking steps to recoup some of that financial cost.