With an 89 percent increase in overdose fatalities since 2015, Bucks County officials filed a lawsuit Tuesday that will target 17 corporate defendants and one individual who allegedly contributed to the human and financial losses caused by the opioid epidemic.
“As tragic as those deaths were, and are to those families, we the county think that we can put a price on the collateral costs of dealing with this epidemic right here in Bucks County,” County Commissioner Chairman Robert Loughery said.
The 159-page civil complaint targets 14 corporate entities including the largest producers of prescription opioids, like Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma, the creator of OxyContin which brings in $3.1 billion annually. The sole individual is John Kapoor, the founder and former CEO of Insys Therapeatics Inc, which manufactures Subsys, a fentanyl-based spray medication.
District Attorney Matt Weintraub said the lawsuit is about “accountability for the damages,” and that, “it’s time for opioid producers and distributors to pay.” Last year alone Bucks had 232 overdose fatalities driving the county to create a six-detective District Attorney’s Drug Strike Force, fund a $20 million prison expansions and handle a 66 percent increase in opioid-related 911 calls.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants mislead the public about the dangers of prescription opioids and that those responsible for the distribution disregarded the community’s protection.
The complaint states, “A pharmaceutical manufacturer should never place its desire for profits above the health and well-being of its customers…A pharmaceutical distributor of controlled substances has a legal duty to conduct its business lawfully and carefully and in a manner that does not irresponsibly and unreasonably saturate a community with opioids…Defendants broke these simple rules.”
The county is being represented by Scott & Scott Attorneys at Law, a national firm that has handled similar litigation. Joshua Snyder, local counsel with Boni, Zack & Synder of Bala Cynwyd, said on Tuesday, “we intend to seek justice for Bucks County.”
County Commissioner Charles Martin recognized the impact the opioid addiction has on local government, police, fire, and EMS. He said that legal action is the “right thing.”
Joseph McFadden, president of the Bucks County Association of Township Officials, is focused on the municipal level sets back and ways to improve the communities by creating a task force. McFadden, a volunteer firefighter, has been out on “numerous different calls” regarding opioid overdoses. BCATO, with representation from Lower to Upper Bucks, wants to create a “center point for data collection.”
“This is hitting our township (and) municipalities right in the wallet, it’s hitting our residents, it’s killing our residents, and we need to make it stop,” McFadden said.
The County lists the financial hardships as the following, “but is not limited to:”
- A $20 million prison expansion to accommodate the exploding inmate population, much of it addiction-related
- $4 million in annual outsourcing costs to house Bucks County inmates in other prisons because of addiction-fueled overcrowding
- Hiring two additional Coroner’s Office employees to handle the influx of opioid-related deaths, and paying for burial of a significant number of unclaimed corpses of overdose victims
- Creation of a six-detective, $900,000-per-year Drug Strike Force by the District Attorney’s Office to help fight the opioid crisis
- A 66.5 percent increase in opioid-related 911 emergency calls since 2012, with each call taking about 30 minutes to resolve, at a cost of about $30 per hour
- Rising county insurance payments resulting from unwarranted and potentially dangerous chronic opioid therapy for employees, retirees and dependents – and frequent ensuing payments for addiction-related treatment
- NARCAN purchases and training
- Increased expenses and strain on police, fire and EMS personnel
- Public health training, and recovery programs and campaigns
- Rehabilitation clinics, addiction treatment centers and suicide prevention services
- Services for infants born with addictions and young children traumatized by addiction in their homes
- Diversion of the Fire Marshal to inspect foster-care homes of children removed from drug-infested households
- Diversion of public works employees and the Fire Marshal to bring “sober houses” up to code and safe for addicted residents
- Lost productivity of county workers afflicted with addiction-related issues or who are dealing with loved ones with addictions
- Increased law enforcement and court costs including overtime, anti-gang activity, toxicology tests and other drug- and addiction-fueled costs
- Skyrocketing costs of child abuse investigations. The county spent almost $11.5 million on such investigations, many of them addiction-related, an increase of 440 percent since 2004