The City of Portland filed a lawsuit today in Cumberland County Superior Court against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs in response to the substantial impact, including the loss of lives, that the opioid epidemic has had on the Portland community. Defendants include, among others, Purdue Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates, Endo Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates, Actavis and its affiliates, Watson Laboratories, Mallinckrodt, McKesson, Cardinal Health, Amerisourcebergen, and various doctors involved in the distribution of these drugs.
The suit includes a six count complaint alleging Fraud, Unjust Enrichment, Negligence, Negligent Marketing, Public Nuisance, and a violation of Maine’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. It seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, costs, fines, attorneys’ fees and that the Defendants abate the public nuisance that they have created.
The City is represented by local counsel Trafton, Matzen, Belleau and Frenette of Auburn and Napoli Shkolnik of New York, New York, who also represents many other municipalities in several similar suits across the country. Representation is in this lawsuit is being handled on a contingent fee basis, which means that it is being provided at no cost to the City unless there are monetary damages obtained against the Defendants. If those damages are obtained, payment to the attorneys will only be a percentage of the total amount recovered.
Overview of Lawsuit
Essentially, the lawsuit claims that the Defendants knew that opioids -- which include well-known brand-name drugs like OxyContin and Percocet, and generics like oxycodone and hydrocodone -- were effective treatments for short-term post-surgical and trauma-related pain, and for palliative (end-of-life) care. Yet they also knew–and had known for years–that opioids were addictive and subject to misuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic non-cancer pain and should not be used except as a last-resort.
The lawsuit further alleges that Defendants knew–and had known for years–that with prolonged use, the effectiveness of opioids wanes, requiring increases in doses and markedly increasing the risk of significant side effects and addiction. At certain doses, opioids can slow the user’s breathing, causing respiratory depression and, ultimately, death.
Finally, the lawsuit claims that Defendants, through a sophisticated and highly deceptive and unfair marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, deepened around 2006, and continues to the present, set out to, and did, reverse the popular and medical understanding of opioids. Chronic opioid therapy—the prescribing of opioids to treat chronic pain long-term—is now commonplace.
Impact on the City
This case is about addressing the numerous community, health and wellness issues that Portland has been faced with as a result of one thing: corporate greed. Overall, it is the City’s contention in this lawsuit that Defendants put their desire for profits above the health and well-being of Portland’s residents at a significant cost to the City, including the loss of 57 lives from overdoses in 2017 alone.
More specifically, in recent years, Portland has been forced to expend exorbitant amounts of money because of this public health epidemic and as a direct result of the actions of the Defendants.
Some of the ways this can be illustrated is through our public safety calls for service, use and distribution of narcan via our Police, Fire, and Public Health staff, the work of our LEAAP Liaison at the Police Department, the work of our Public Works staff who collect discarded needles, and the work of our Public Health Department’s Substance Use Prevention Program and Needle Exchange program.
The Police Department responded to 180 calls for service for suspected opioid overdoses in 2016 and 266 calls for service for suspected opioid overdoses in 2017 (a 41.5% increase). In addition they have administered 103 doses of narcan since they started equipping officers with the life-saving drug in the fall of 2016. The Fire Department administered narcan 204 times in 2017 up from 143 doses in 2016. And our public health staff at the India Street Health Center has distributed 2,791 doses to 502 needle exchange program clients, who reported reversing 291 overdoses.
The LEAAP Liaison has met with a total of 195 clients who expressed a wish in engaging in recovery since the position was created in January 2016 and has successfully referred 102 clients to treatment programs. Additionally, the Liaison has interacted with another 270 community members who seek support for themselves or their family members. The Liaison also engages in training and outreach in the community for the public and the jail.
Our public works crews collected roughly 1,800 discarded needles across the city, and our needle exchange program has distributed 173,219 clean syringes and collected 186,189 in 2017.
And our substance use prevention and needle exchange program coordinators performed a total of 115 overdose recognition and response trainings across greater Portland in 2017.
These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg as to the monetary impact this has had on the City. It is the hope of all of those involved that this lawsuit will provide much needed funds to address this impact and these problems throughout Portland.