Thurston County has filed a lawsuit against prescription opioid manufacturers and wholesalers, stating that they are responsible for the "epidemic status" of opioid dependence in Thurston County.
The lawsuit filed with the US District Court on Monday argues that the defendants have given doctors and patients false and misleading information about the safety of prescription opioids over the past two decades. Thurston County prosecutor Jon Tunheim said the lawsuit's goal is to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for the "worst man-made epidemic in history".
"Opioid dependence has reached epidemic proportions in Thurston County and opioid deaths have increased dramatically over the past decade, and we believe these companies have directly contributed to the epidemic," said Tunheim in a press release.
Among the defendants named in the lawsuit are Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin; Endo Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Percocet; and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, that manufactures patches that release the analgesic fentanyl.
The lawsuit alleges that they violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the RICO, a public nuisance, negligence, gross negligence and unjust enrichment under state law.
County officials say that the surge of prescription opioids in Thurston County has been closely followed by a dramatic increase in heroin use; About half of the people who used the country's needle exchange program reported heroin last year.
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"The opioid epidemic simply could not have turned into a crisis as it is today without an enormous supply of pills," according to the complaint.
Hundreds of states, cities and counties have filed similar lawsuits against drug manufacturers and traders, including in Washington. Thurston County is represented by the Seattle-based law firm Keller Rohrback, which has filed lawsuits on behalf of the King, Pierce and Skagit Counties and the cities of Tacoma, Mount Vernon, Burlington and Sedro-Woolley.
Last month, the Thurston County Commissioners approved a resolution supporting such a lawsuit, saying that the county had substantial costs for treating opioid crimes and medical emergencies.