Almost every day, the news reports alarming statistics on opioid use. In 2015, 229 individuals died from heroin and prescription overdoses in King County alone. The current opioid epidemic is straining the budgets of law enforcement and courts across the country. Now the city of Everett, Washington has come up with a new strategy.
On January 19, Everett filed suit against Purdue Pharma in the Snohomish County Superior Court. While there has been much litigation against drug manufacturers for deceptive marketing practices, this suit is different. It seeks to explicitly hold Purdue accountable for the economic strain the opioid problem has caused in Everett. In the complaint, the city of Everett alleges that Purdue failed to stop their product from being funneled onto the black market, willfully ignoring “suspicious doctors and pharmacies.” The complaint goes on to argue, ” Everett has incurred and will continue to incur sizable costs in dealing with the OxyContin (and consequent heroin) abuse, addiction, and crime caused by Purdue, including the expenditure of substantial sums to address the social and economic impacts of the opioid epidemic in Everett. For example, Everett has spent, and will need to continue to spend, significant money on law enforcement, prosecution, emergency medical services, prisons and jails, probation, and public works. Other departments of Everett, including the municipal courts, fire department, and parks department, have also been forced to devote substantial time, money, and resources to the harms caused by Purdue. Everett has also suffered lost economic opportunity as a result of Purdue’s wrongdoing.” The lawsuit came after a 2016 Los Angeles Times investigation reported that Purdue had evidence of illegal trafficking but failed to act.
But will it work? Most law professors weighing in are skeptical, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out. If the court rules for Everett, we could see a flurry of such suits across the country as cash-strapped municipalities struggle to cover costs.