Lawsuit blames Big Pharma for opioid crisis

SMBB
September 22, 2017

The Delaware County Daily Times
by Rick Kauffman

AR-170929907MEDIA COURTHOUSE >> Delaware County became the first county in Pennsylvania to wage war on Big Pharma with a civil lawsuit seeking damages from opioid manufactures they allege participated in an elaborate scheme, downplaying the dangerous and often deadly addictiveness of prescription painkillers.

The filing was announced by Delaware County Council, District Attorney Jack Whelan and the Delaware County Sheriff's office Thursday to combat what officials called the "relentless pursuit for profit" that came at a great cost to public safety.

"Delaware County didn't want to wait any longer. These brave leaders are tired of see their constituents whose loved ones have been killed," said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett and Bendesky of Philadelphia, who will represent the county in the case.

"They aren't waiting. They are being proactive, and they are taking the first step."

The suit alleges that four top pharmaceutical companies - Endo, Purdue, Cephalon and Janssen - systematically put doctors on the payroll who wrote medical opinions which called for doctors to prescribe opioids to treat their patients.

"This was a finely orchestrated blitzkrieg by the opioid manufacturing industry to change public opinions and to convince doctors that opioids were safety and non-addictive when in fact they were deadly and deadly addictive," Mongeluzzi said.

Despite having just 4 percent of the planet's population, Americans ingest 80 percent of the world's supply of opioids.

Citing deceptive marketing materials and resources drafted by doctors named in the suit as Dr. Lynn Webster of Salt Lake City, Utah, Dr. Scott Fishman of Sacramento, Calif., Dr. Perry Fine of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Dr. Russell Portenoy, whom Time magazine dubbed "The King of Pain." The complaint alleges the four were "instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally and in Delaware County."

Since 1980, decidedly non-peer reviewed journals and articles that promoted the use of drugs like Oxycontin, Percocet, Fentanyl and others were promoted by doctors on Big Pharma's payroll and by front groups like the American Pain Foundation and the American Academy of Pain Medication that advocated for opioid use, the suit claims.

The American Pain Foundation, where Portentoy acted as president, shut down in 2012 after it had received 90 percent of its $5 million in funding in 2010 from the drug and medical-device industry.

Attorney Harris Pogust of Pogust Braslow Millrood LLC in Conshohocken, said that in 20 years of litigating cases against pharmaceutical companies he hasn't seen a seen a conspiracy of four different pharmaceuticals coming together to work in concert.

Whelan said this is the first step in an ongoing battle.

"The problem I have personally is that I have so many parents saying to me, 'Why isn't anyone going after the pharmaceuticals corporations?'" Whelan said. "Finally I can say to parents or a loved one who lost somebody we are."

The hope is that other counties in the commonwealth will follow suit.

"You can join in a critical mass," Mongeluzzi said. "This is an incredibly complex and costly battle - we are going up against what I would call the superpower of litigation with Big Pharma - and certainly the more counties that join, the more the odds get evened out."

In Pennsylvania, it's against the law to claim a dollar amount in civil cases. Delaware County Councilman David White, the co-chairman of the Heroin Task Force, said they are seeking damages to be returned to Delaware County.

"We're going to get the money reimbursed of what we have spent year after year, tens of millions, and we will invest in recovery," White said. "Our plan is to get those pharmaceuticals to pay for those recovery programs. They created a problem, and now they need to pay to fix it."

"Delaware County has its own health plan for its employees, and that health plan has paid for opioids that are ineffective and addictive," Mongeluzzi said. "(Delaware County) has paid for rehabilitation for health care beneficiaries, they have paid for jails, prisons, police officer time and DA time, and the tentacles of addiction continue to creep further and further out."

Furthermore, the efforts of the lawsuit aim to right the wrongs done by a $400 billion industry run by Big Tobacco-style marketing practices.

"We're fighting for those parents who stood above a grave and watch their children get buried in a wooden box. We're fighting for a spouse who wakes up to an empty chair at the kitchen table and an empty pillow at night. We're fighting for the loved ones who know and live and love someone who is addicted, who gets a phone call at 3 a.m. and prays it's a wrong number and not the call that will tell them their loved one had died," Mongeluzzi said.

"We're firing the first shot. Opioid manufactures, the battle is on."

Related Attorneys

Robert J. Mongeluzzi

Office: 215-575-2989