Napa County says major pharmaceutical companies should foot the bill for opioid addiction and overdose treatment which have hit the county hard.
Attorneys representing the county wrote in a document filed in an Ohio District Court Wednesday that the county is also seeking money to cover the costs of opioid use education and preventative efforts, and unspecified costs incurred by the county. Lawyers hired to work for the county are working on similar cases for other public agencies and all of those lawsuits are being coordinated in Ohio.
Napa County first sued the companies in June and argued the county was hit particularly hard by the nationwide opioid epidemic. The rates of nonfatal opioid-related hospital visits between 2010 and 2014 in Napa County were “higher than the alarmingly high statewide rate in California,” according to the lawsuit.
Prescription opioids are considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be powerful pain-reducing medications with a high potential for abuse. Well-known opioids include OxyContin, Demerol, Vicodin and fentanyl. Research indicates long-term use may increase risk of serious harms.
Opioids such as oxycodone, hydromorphone, meperidine and fentanyl are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule II drugs, which are the second-highest on a five-tiered system used to designate the danger of a drug. The use of Schedule II drugs can possibly lead to “severe psychological or physical dependence,” according to the DEA’s website.
There were more than 797 opioid prescriptions per 1,000 Napa County residents in years 2010 through 2015, higher than the statewide average of 608 prescriptions per 1,000 residents, according to the lawsuit. The rate of Napa County residents prescribed the equivalent of more than 100 morphine milligrams per day was 36 percent higher than the statewide rate during that same time period.
The rate of county residents who were on opioids for 90 days straight was 45 percent higher than the statewide rate from 2010 to 2013, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit references reports about two Napa doctors found to have overprescribed opioids.
Paul Woodward prescribed opioids without a medical reason and prescribed $1.3 million worth of opioids to one patient in four years, federal prosecutors said in 2014. Woodward surrendered his medical license to resolve a disciplinary action taken by the Medical Board of California, according to the board’s website.
He pled guilty in 2016 to charges of conspiracy to engage in health care fraud and aiding and abetting in attempted distribution of a controlled substance committed in 2010, court records show. He was ordered to pay more than $1 million to the federal government in restitution and sentenced to five years of probation.
Eric Grigsby was accused of prescribing high doses of oxycodone to a patient for more than a decade and continuing to do so five years after her family said in 2006 that she was abusing the pills, according to the lawsuit. She became homeless and engaged in self-destructive behaviors as a result, her family said.
Grigsby’s physician and surgeon license is still active with the Medical Board of California, but the board reprimanded him in 2017 for prescribing high doses of the drug. The board describes the reprimand on its website as “a minor violation” of the law and Grigsby’s attorney said at the time that the settlement was not an admission of guilt.
The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia has accused Purdue Pharma, one of the companies Napa County is suing, of training sales representatives to falsely inform health care providers that OxyContin was difficult to use intravenously, harder to get addicted to, and could be easily and abruptly stopped, according to the lawsuit.
Purdue paid physicians in Napa County and elsewhere to participate on speakers’ bureaus, provide consulting services and more, according to the lawsuit. The same was true for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, another drug company, which made more than 400 payments to Napa County doctors.
Between years 2013 and 2016, Purdue also made individual food and beverage payments to county physicians, attorneys wrote.
The CEO of Purdue Pharma has announced to media outlets that the company was considering filing for bankruptcy as it potentially faced tens of billions of dollars in payments tied to legal action, The Washington Post reported.
Nearly one million Americans aged 25 to 54 weren’t working in 2015 because they were hooked on opioids, according to an American Action Forum study referenced in the lawsuit. That number grew each year from 1999 to 2015 and is estimated to have cost the American economy a total of $702 billion.
The lawyers working with Napa County are Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP, Andrus Anderson LLP, Weitz & Luxenberg P.C. and Renne Public Law Group.
The attorneys are also representing Marin, Sonoma, Santa Cruz and Tulare counties, the city of Los Angeles and counties elsewhere. The county will pay them 15 percent of any successful damage payments.