Snohomish County sues pharmaceutical companies over their role in opioid crisis

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The Snohomish County Council voted unanimously Monday to file a civil lawsuit against the makers and distributors of Oxycontin and other opioids for ignoring criminal activity that played a role in the county’s opioid crisis.

The lawsuit — which has the support of the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney, Snohomish County Executive and Snohomish County Sheriff— was filed against Purdue Pharma, makers of Oxycontin, and McKesson Pharmaceutical, distributors of Oxycontin and other opioids, along with others. According to a Snohomish County announcement, the lawsuit asserts that Purdue, McKesson, and others “caused significant harm to Snohomish County by, among other things, recklessly ignoring criminal activity and pursuing corporate interests over the interests of our residents.”

Stating that opioids “are a menace to public safety and our families,” Snohomish County Council Chair Terry Ryan said the lawsuit “is our way of holding these companies accountable to our residents.

“Nothing can bring back sobriety or peace of mind, but this can help to ensure that other communities won’t be harmed in the future,” said Ryan, who represents the 4th district including Mountlake Terrace.

“We see the suffering caused by opioid addiction in our criminal justice system, our neighborhoods, and our schools,” said Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell. ”By filing this civil lawsuit, we are trying to force these companies to take responsibility for their reckless actions. That is the surest path for protecting our community and others like us.”

The announcement goes on to say that the lawsuit “seeks to hold all of the defendants accountable for the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market, including to drug rings, pill mills, and other dealers for dispersal of the highly addictive pills in Snohomish County. The vast majority of doctors, pharmacists, and clinicians have partnered with the county on responsible use of opioids. However, a few bad actors have caused significant harm.”

Oxycontin has been identified as one of the primary contributors to opioid addiction and a common first step on a pathway to heroin and fentanyl addiction, the announcement said.

“One out of every three inmates booked in our jail is immediately placed on an opioid withdrawal watch,” said Ty Trenary, Snohomish County Sheriff. “The nexus between opioid misuse, addiction and criminal activity is clear. It’s time to hold those who have been irresponsibly dumping large quantities of powerful and highly addictive narcotics into our communities responsible.”

The lawsuit details numerous examples of defendants’ misconduct, including based on internal Purdue and McKesson emails and other documents.  For example, the complaint chronicles a drug ring in the Los Angeles area engaged in a pattern of transparently false OxyContin orders, for the purpose of distributing OxyContin on the black market and into Snohomish County. Despite knowledge, Purdue and McKesson took no action and instead they continued to supply massive and disturbing quantities of OxyContin to the drug ring until it was ultimately shut down by law enforcement. The complaint also describes how the misconduct of local physicians, clinics, and pharmacies resulted in dangerous quantities of OxyContin being illegally diverted into Snohomish County.

Others named in the suit include Doctors Osteopathic Care, P.S., Inc.; Seattle Pain Center Medical Corporation; Statcare, Inc.; Thrifty Payless Inc. doing business as Rite Aid; Northwest Green Medical PLLC; Northwest Green Wellness PLLC; and Sevan Pharmacy LLC.

“This lawsuit is about the health and safety of our community,” said Stephanie Wright, Snohomish County Councilmember who represents the 3rd District, which includes Edmonds and Lynnwood. ”These companies chose to profit from the suffering of so many people in our county, and we are going to hold them accountable.”

In November 2017, County Executive Dave Somers activated the emergency management system to address the opioid crisis in Snohomish County. With Sheriff Trenary and the Snohomish Health District, the Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group was established to better coordinate the county’s response to the crisis. Some of the key accomplishments of the MAC Group include reducing the Medical’s Examiner’s wait time for toxicology results in overdose deaths, training more than 800 people to use Naloxone (Narcan) to reverse an overdose, and increasing the number of medical providers who prescribe Suboxone (a medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction) by 10 percent.

To learn more about Snohomish County’s response to the opioid epidemic, visit snohomishoverdoseprevention.com/.

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