The city has filed a lawsuit against nine drug companies for their alleged role in causing the opioid epidemic that has devastated Paterson.
In its 78-page complaint filed in the Passaic County Superior Court on Monday, the city alleges six drug manufacturers and three distributors engaged in campaigns of misinformation that downplayed the risk of prescription painkiller addiction causing the opioid epidemic.
“The devastating impact on the social fabric of the Paterson community has caused tremendous economic harm to the city, including increased costs related to police, fire, and first responder services required to respond to opioid overdoses and suspected overdoses,” reads the complaint.
The six drug makers — Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson (including subsidiaries Janssen Pharmaceutica and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen), Endo International, and Insys Therapeutics – and the three distributors — McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen — are accused of “taking a page out of big tobacco’s playbook” by publishing misleading articles in medical publications aimed at doctors, creating false literature that appeared independent and objective, and employing respected doctors to write, consult, and lend their names to articles that encouraged use of opioids to treat chronic pain.
The firms also allegedly sponsored medical education courses to convince doctors that prescribing opioids for pain relief were appropriate and did not pose serious risk of addiction. They also promoted statements that risk of addiction is “exceedingly low in older patients” when a 2010 study found patients 65 or older had the largest number of serious overdoses.
“The human cost of the opioid crisis has been devastating to those addicted and their families and friends. This lawsuit seeks to hold responsible those companies whose practices created a crisis that has drained the coffers of cities like Paterson, which operates on meager resources but is relied on to provide critical, life-saving services,” said the city’s law director Domenick Stampone.
The city was forced to expend money to train 270 employees to use anti-overdose drug Naloxone. 500 hours was invested in the training, according to the complaint.
Substance abuse treatment admissions in the city spiked from 881 in 2006 to 1,096 in 2016. Since 2006, 10,623 were admitted to substance abuse treatment in the city, according to the lawsuit.
Paterson incurred “exorbitant” costs for opioid prescriptions written for its employees. The city insures approximately 5,400 employees, retires, and dependents, according to the complaint. The flood of drugs in the streets also resulted in the city incurring expenses to drug test its employees.
“The pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesale distributors must be held responsible for their actions, which are the root cause of so much human and financial loss,” said David Scott, managing partner of Connecticut-based law firm Scott+Scott, which was hired in September to represent the city.
Scott+Scott is taking the legal action without billing the city. It will only be paid if it recovers damages from the drug makers and distributors, according to municipal officials. Scott & Scott is a nationally-recognized law firm that has recovered billions for its clients through lawsuits. The firm has enlisted the help of Saddle Brook-based Goldsmith & Goldsmith which was part of a team that represented New Jersey in the 1998 tobacco litigation.
The lawsuit does not mention a monetary amount in damages the city is seeking.
Paterson is seeking reimbursement for the costs it undertook and continues to undertake to “contain and mitigate the hazard to public health and safety” caused by the defendants alleged actions. It is also seeking an injunction to cover future expenses it will take on to to eliminate the public nuisance caused by the alleged “unlawful” and “unconscionable acts” of the drug makers and distributors.