Landmark Erie County Lawsuit Against Pharmaceutical Opioid Manufacturers Seeks Damages for Deceptive Acts and Practices, Fraud, False Advertising

Modified: February 2, 2017 4:59pm

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Today, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Attorney Michael Siragusa, Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael Ranney, and Paul J. Hanly, Jr. of Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC to announce that Erie County has filed a civil action lawsuit against 11 pharmaceutical manufacturing entities and 4 individuals for their roles in exacerbating the opioid epidemic gripping Erie County. Filed Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court, the suit claims that the defendants engaged in deceptive acts and practices, false advertising, fraud, and unjust enrichment.

“These drug makers and their enablers in the medical community were aware of the significant dangers posed by opioid prescription medications, yet that did not stop them from continuing to push opioids and get even more people hooked on them. When addiction rates and fatalities climbed, they doubled down and increased their false advertising on the safety of these drugs, assuring doctors and patients that they were safe and had no long-lasting effects,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “In Erie County last year we had over 300 fatalities that were opioid-related, and every day in America 78 people die from an opioid overdose. Our society has long borne the costs of this carnage while these predators have profited handsomely, leaving a trail of shattered lives and lost dreams in their wake. They are just as culpable for these deaths as street-level heroin dealers are, and they must be held accountable for the destruction they have caused and for the burden they have placed on our community.”

While opioids provide effective short-term treatment for post-surgical and trauma-related pain, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants manufactured, promoted, and marketed opioids for pain management by misleading patients and doctors about the appropriate uses, risks, and safety of opioids. In addition, the defendants knew that 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. The defendants also knew that controlled studies of the safety and efficacy of opioids were limited to short-term use in managed settings where the risk of addiction was significantly minimized.

“We contend that these manufacturers misled consumers and medical providers through misrepresentations and planned omissions regarding the appropriate uses, risks and safety of opioids for management of pain. In order to realize blockbuster profits, the defendants created a false perception of the safety and efficacy of opioids that would encourage the use of opioids for longer periods of time and to treat a wide-range of problems,” added Erie County Attorney Michael Siragusa. “They did this through a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive marketing campaign. Defendants, knowing that long-term use of opioids causes addiction, misrepresented the dangers of long-term opioid use to physicians, pharmacists, and patients by engaging in a campaign to minimize the risks of, and to encourage, long-term opioid use.”

To date, there have been no long-term studies demonstrating the safety and efficacy of opioids for long-term use. Yet despite having this knowledge, the defendants worked to create a false perception of opioids’ safety and efficacy in the minds of medical professionals and the public to encourage the use of opioids for longer periods of time and for a wider range of problems, including such common aches and pains as lower back pain, arthritis, and headaches. This false perception was promoted through an aggressive marketing campaign that began in the late 1990’s, was ramped up in 2006, and continues today.

Poloncarz said, “The timeline for the opioid epidemic dovetails almost exactly with the hyper-marketing tactics of these companies. Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled. In 2010, 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in this country, which is enough to medicate every adult in America around the clock for a month. By 2014, nearly 2 million Americans either abused or were dependent on opioids. At the same time, in 2012 alone opioids generated $8 billion in revenues for drug companies, including $3.1 billion for Purdue alone due to their Oxycontin sales. Their greedy, soulless drive for ever-expanding profits is destroying our society and we must take steps to reduce the damages and fix this problem.”

Erie County Attorney Siragusa will work with Paul J. Hanly of Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC as the lawsuit moves forward. Simmons Hanley Conroy is working on a contingency basis and will only receive remuneration for their efforts and reimbursement for any costs if the suit is successful.

To read the complaint filed in NYS Supreme Court, click here.