Tucson, Pima County sue pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis

Taking on the opioid crisis

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County and the City of Tucson are taking legal action against major drug companies for their roles in the opioid epidemic.

“This is an epidemic that is impacting every single one of our neighborhoods, every single one of our zip codes. There is not one place in Pima County that is not touched by this," said Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County Chief Medical Examiner.

The city and county filed lawsuits in Pima County Superior Court Thursday Jan. 17 against more than 20 companies, including Purdue Pharma and Chandler-based Insys Therapeutics, that manufacture and/or distribute opioid drugs across the nation and within the city of Tucson and Pima County.

The lawsuits claim those companies knew the drugs were addictive, but kept making them, marketing them to doctors and distributing them.

Captain John Leavitt with the Tucson Police Department’s Counter Narcotics Alliance calls it “prescription to addiction.”

“Big pharma pushed these drugs just like a drug dealer from an international cartel would push drugs and they created this problem," said Capt. Leavitt.

Dr. Garcia said there is data to prove the damage the drugs and their distributors are doing.

From 2008 to 2016, inpatient and emergency room visits in Pima County for opioid-related diagnosis nearly doubled, according to Dr. Garcia:

Inpatient visits/ER visits:

  • 2008: 2,6444 / Less than 2,000
  • 2016: More than 5,000 / About 4,000

“We know that the public purse, either through access or through medicare, is going to be responsible in about 60-percent of cases. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars just for Pima County, any given year," said Dr. Garcia.

In 2016, Dr. Garcia said opioid-related inpatient charges and emergency room charges totaled to more than $253 million.

“We need to hold producers and distributors accountable," said Dr. Garcia.

In 2017, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed an emergency declaration to address the growing number of opioid overdoses and deaths in Arizona. Dr. Garcia’s office examined 282 overdose-related deaths in 2017, with 60-percent associated with opioids.

“They think they are taking the products that they were prescribed by their doctors, their doctors have constricted that supply appropriately because of the bad information they were given by big pharma and now those people are seeking them on the streets, they are running into fentanyl and they are dying," said Capt. Leavitt.

The lawsuits seek damages to reimburse communities for money already spent battling the opioid epidemic and money for future costs or addiction treatment programs.

The city and county also hope to see a court order “blocking the described business practices.”

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