TOMS RIVER – Ocean County is joining litigation against opioid manufacturers and marketers.
The Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted a resolution that authorized Sanders Phillips Grossman, Garden City, New York, to file a complaint joining 200 other complainants in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation.
The complainants were originally all political subdivisions but now include individuals, consumers, hospitals, third-party payers and Native American tribes.
The complaints allege companies improperly marketed and inappropriately distributed various prescribed opiates in cities, states and towns across the country.
“While we have implemented programs through our Prosecutor’s Office and our Corrections Department and Juvenile Services and a host of other agencies to help our residents suffering from addiction, this action is another step we are taking in the fight against drug overdoses,” Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines said. “We want to send a clear message that it’s time for everyone to get on board and work to solve this issue including those companies that manufacture and those who market these drugs.”
Ocean County lost 187 residents to drug overdose deaths last year. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 persons have died from opioid overdoses nationwide, according to court filings. In 2013, almost 2 million persons abused or were dependent on prescribed opiates.
The county cited the Legal Executive Institute, which said the common allegations in the consolidate cases are:
- manufacturers of prescription opioid medications overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of the use of their opioids and aggressively marketed (directly and through key opinion leaders) these drugs to physicians; and/or
- distributors failed to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse, and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.
“We are joining several other counties in New Jersey along with the state itself in this litigation,” Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director John P. Kelly said. He serves as Director of Law and Public Safety. “The number of litigants has ballooned to well over 1,000 and continues to grow. This action is about saving lives. Ocean County has experienced far too many deaths from drug overdoses. This is another avenue we are taking to remedy this.”
Haines added that Ocean County absolutely wants to see those numbers decrease. Should the litigation prove successful, she would like to see the county use a portion of the settlement go toward rehabilitation, including extending times people are in rehab. The New York law firm will take a percentage of any winnings as payment, so there are no out-of-pocket costs to the county.
“Drug addiction does not go away overnight and those who are sick need far more time in treatment than currently provided,” Haines said.
The named defendants include: Actavis, Allergan, Cephalon, Endo, Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Teva, Watson, AmerisouceBergen, McKesson Corp., and Cardinal Health, all of which allegedly distributed more than 80 percent of the opiates involved.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said the county is looking into the lawsuit but can’t offer further comment at this time.