Clay joins 35 counties in opioid lawsuit
The law firms of Simmons Hanly Conroy and Crueger Dickinson LLC filed the first Iowa federal court lawsuits Friday on behalf of Clay, Buena Vista, O’Brien and 33 other Iowan counties against pharmaceutical manufacturers to address the “opioid crisis.”
The defendants in the lawsuits include Purdue Pharma L.P.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.; Cephalon Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Erin Dickinson, of Crueger Dickinson LLC, and lead counsel in the lawsuit, previously appeared before the Iowa State Association of Counties when gathering the class, which ISAC encouraged counties to join. Clay County did so during a board of supervisors meeting. Dickinson said the filing marked an important step to “hold those responsible.”
“Communities throughout Iowa are suffering as a result of the opioid epidemic,” Dickinson said. “The lawsuits filed today — the first in Iowa — are an important step toward holding those responsible for causing the worst drug epidemic we’ve ever seen. Together with Simmons Hanly Conroy, we will work to get justice for the people of Iowa who have suffered unimaginable losses.”
Burlin Matthews, Clay County supervisor and second vice president of the 2018 ISAC board of directors, explained why Clay County became involved in the lawsuit.
“How it was presented to us at the state was the attorney generals have filed lawsuits against these five pharmaceutical companies because of the way it was marketed,” Matthews said. “And they did that with the (1998) tobacco lawsuit also. The unfortunate part of that lawsuit was it wasn’t shared with the counties. It was kept in Des Moines for the treasurer.
“Because opioids or any other type of illegal activity are going on, and people may be going to jail, we carry the cost for that. The idea of us as a county joining a class action lawsuit is, we would receive some costs that have already been expended for these people that have been arrested for opioids. ... It would provide an avenue for us if there’s a settlement to recover some costs directly through the jail and (county) attorney’s office. That’s the big impetus as far we’re concerned as a board.”
He also addressed the reasons for ISAC’s involvement in the lawsuit by supporting the class.
“The reason that ISAC got involved was because ISAC is the organization that looks out for us as counties, representing us on lots of different phases,” Matthews said. “Just because we’re a county doesn’t mean we stand alone. That’s where ISAC comes in. One of the things they were looking into was the impact this is having on counties in their local jails because counties are paying for it. ... They knew there would be some class action lawsuits filed not only by the attorney general’s office but other organizations, lawyers. Our (ISAC) CEO Bill Peterson actually interviewed different companies in this problem, interested in having Iowan counties join this process. ISAC is getting nothing out of it themselves. They are just the go between.”
The lawsuits state that prescription opioid deaths in Iowa have quadrupled in the last 20 years, and rates of prescription opioid overdose deaths since 1999 in Iowa have increased with Polk County — a class member — making up 25 percent of those deaths.
The lawsuit also states that “the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was allegedly perpetrated through a civil conspiracy involving a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive (unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications) promotion and marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006, and is ongoing. Specifically, the complaints detail how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other ‘educational’ materials, conducting sales visits to doctors, and supporting a network of professional societies and advocacy groups — all of which were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony ‘consensus’ supporting the long-term use of opioids.”
Other counties involved in the lawsuit include: Adair, Adams, Audubon, Benton, Bremer, Buchanan, Calhoun, Carroll, Cedar, Clayton, Clinton, Dallas, Delaware, Fayette, Hamilton, Hardin, Humboldt, Johnson, Lee, Mahaska, Marion, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, Plymouth, Polk, Pottawattamie, Sac, Scott, Shelby, Sioux, Taylor and Winneshiek.