PHILADELPHIA – A county in Pennsylvania has chosen to file its lawsuit against various pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis - one of the thousands filed around the country - in federal court rather than state.
This comes as plaintiffs lawyers representing other counties and union entities in the state are wrestling for control of a Delaware County proceeding that consolidated their claims. The bickering has led to an apparent logjam that features seven appeals of Delaware County orders in the case.
However, Chester County has avoided that entanglement by recently choosing to file its lawsuit against various pharmaceutical companies regarding the opioid crisis in federal court. It has since been removed to a multidistrict litigation proceeding in Cleveland that has its bellwether trials starting later this year.
The county filed the lawsuit March 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging Purdue Pharma LP and several other pharmaceutical laboratories and distributors misled the public regarding the use of opioids and the dangers of their use.
Some of the biggest plaintiffs firms in the country are involved in the sprawling opioid litigation. Given control of consolidated cases in Pennsylvania were Simmons Hanly of Illinois and Pogust Millrood of Conshohocken.
Chester County hired Kaufman, Coren & Ress of Philadelphia and Robbins Geller of San Francisco.
"In 2014, more than 47,000 people died in the United States from lethal drug overdoses," with that number exceeding 52,000 in 2015 and reaching 63,000 in 2016 and r 72,000 in 2017, with "more than three out of five of those deaths" involving the use of opioids, the complaint said..
The county also claimed that the overdoses caused a high number of hospitalizations.
"Beyond the deadly overdoses, in 2017, Chester County had 920 opioid-related hospitalizations, or 217.9 per 100,000 residents," The complaint said. "In 2016-2017, Chester County saw 96 maternal hospital stays with indications of opioid use. Across Pennsylvania, opioid use was present in one of every 51 maternal hospital stays, or 19.6 per 1,000 residents, in 2016-17. This added up to about 49 percent of the 11,103 maternal hospital stays with substance use indicated. Maternal stays with opioid use were more likely to have co-occurring conditions such hepatitis C infection, other substance abuse or false or pre-term labor than stays without opioid abuse, and almost 48 percent of the deliveries in Pennsylvania that involved maternal opioid use in 2016-2017 were early or premature term."
In the complaint, the county compared the pharmaceutical companies' marketing actions to "tobacco industry's playbook," in which they "employed ingenious marketing strategies, designed to 're-educate' the public and prescribers," adding that they also "deliberately conceived these strategies to create, and in fact they did create, an entirely new 'health care' narrative – one in which opioids are considered safe and effective for long-term use and any pain is aggressively treated regardless of the long-term costs."
The county's lawsuit alleges civil conspiracy, deception, unjust enrichment, consumer fraud, racketeering, fraudulent concealment, common law fraud and negligence and seeks damages in excess of $75,000, plus penalties, costs, disgorgement of unjust enrichment, injunctions, interest and attorneys' fees.
Chester County is being represented by attorneys Deborah Gross of Kaufman, Coren & Ress PC of Philadephia and Aelish Baig, Matthew Melamed, Paul Geller, Mark Dearman, Dorothy Antullis, Thomas Egler and Carissa Dolan of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd of San Francisco and San Diego.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Case No. 2:19-cv-01018-PBT