LIHUE — The County of Kauai is suing dozens of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers and their executives for fueling the nationwide opioid epidemic.
“This case is about one thing: corporate greed,” says a civil complaint filed Friday on behalf of the county in Fifth Circuit Court, claiming dozens of pharmaceutical companies and the people controlling them “put their desire for profits above the health and well-being” of Kauai residents.
Representatives of many of the opioid manufacturers named in the county’s lawsuit have repeatedly denied similar allegations made by hundreds of other civil claims that have sprouted up across the country, as state and municipal governments attempt to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for what they allege has been a decades-long, systematic flooding of the market with highly-addictive and dangerous prescription drugs.
From 1999 to 2017, almost 218,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Last year, Hawaii joined a federal class-action lawsuit, along with a list of plaintiffs that now includes 44 other states, against the same list of corporations and individuals named in the county’s lawsuit, and garnered the support of then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who created a task force last year to assist the states.
The county is represented in its lawsuit by John Choi, a personal injury lawyer with the Honolulu firm Hawaii Accident Law Center. He said the county’s interest will be better served by filing in a local jurisdiction rather than joining the multi-district litigation in federal court.
“We want the specific damages of the County of Kauai to be decided by county residents,” Choi said in an email Monday, before adding that it is “highly likely that the defendants will remove the case to federal court.”
In its suit, the county seeks to recoup financial losses suffered by the need to spend “exorbitant amounts of money” on law enforcement, public assistance, medical insurance and health care to combat the opioid epidemic, which its attorneys maintain has been the direct result of a “sophisticated and highly deceptive” marketing campaign pursued by large pharmaceutical companies since the late 1990s.
The lawsuit is based on eight counts of violating state laws, alleging the opioid manufacturers engaged in fraud, deceptive business practices, false advertising, unjust enrichment, negligence, civil conspiracy and conduct that ultimately created a public nuisance.
Among the dozens of defendants named in the county’s lawsuit, six are in the top 50 American companies by revenue. Three are in the top 10.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is named as a defendant, along with the several members of the Sackler family who control the company.
They are joined by pharmaceutical industry giants like Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, which together distribute more than 90 percent of the nation’s drug and medical supplies, according a 2017 analysis of the prescription-drug industry.
“In order to expand the market for opioids and realize blockbuster profits,” the county’s civil complaint says, the opioid manufacturers created “a sea of change in the medical and public perception that would permit the use of opioids not just for acute and palliative care, but also for long periods of time to treat more common aches and pains, like lower back pain, arthritis, and headaches.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.