Within the past seven months, the retail price for 120 Oxycontin tablets, 40-mgs in strength has skyrocketed from $990.00 to $1,698.00. Purdue Pharma, the sole manufacturer of Oxycontin has steadily increased the price for their product. Since Purdue Pharma still holds patent rights to Oxycontin, a generic equivalent is not available.
Los Angeles Times - Harriet Ryan
© Liz O. Baylen-Los Angeles Times-TNS
A Washington city devastated by black-market OxyContin filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the painkillers' manufacturer Thursday, alleging the company turned a blind eye to criminal trafficking of its pills to "reap large and obscene profits" and demanding it foot the bill for widespread opioid addiction in the community.
The suit by Everett, a city of 100,000 north of Seattle, was prompted by a Los Angeles Times investigation last year. The newspaper revealed that drug maker Purdue Pharma had extensive evidence pointing to illegal trafficking across the nation, but in many cases, did not share it with law enforcement or cut off the flow of pills.
One Los Angeles ring monitored by Purdue and highlighted by The Times' investigation supplied OxyContin to gang members and other criminals who were trafficking the drug to Everett. At the height of the problem, in 2010, OxyContin was a factor in more than half the crimes in Snohomish County, and it ignited a heroin epidemic that still grips the region, officials said.
In a complaint in state Superior Court, city lawyers accused Purdue of gross negligence, creating a public nuisance and other misconduct and said the company should pay costs of handling the opioid crisis — a figure that the mayor said could run tens of millions of dollars — as well as punitive damages.
"Purdue's improper actions of placing profits over the welfare of the citizens of Everett have caused and will continue to cause substantial damages to Everett," the lawyers wrote. "Purdue is liable for its intentional, reckless, and/or negligent misconduct and should not be allowed to evade responsibility for its callous and unconscionable practices."
Purdue has been sued hundreds of times over the past 20 years over its marketing of OxyContin to doctors and the drug's risk of addiction to patients, but Everett's suit is the first to focus narrowly on what the company knew about criminal distribution of the painkiller.
Purdue did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit. In a statement Wednesday in advance of a City Council vote to authorize the litigation, a spokesman for Purdue said, "We share public officials' concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions."
The Times' investigation, published in July, disclosed that for more than a decade, an internal security team at Purdue monitored doctors and pharmacies it suspected of colluding with dealers and addicts. In the case of the L.A. ring, criminals set up a phony clinic near MacArthur Park in 2008 and worked with corrupt physicians and pharmacies to obtain pills over 18 months.
A Purdue sales manager dispatched to investigate the high volume of prescriptions at the clinic found a rundown building thronged with rough men and urged supervisors to alert the Drug Enforcement Administration, saying she was "very certain this is an organized drug ring."
Despite her pleas and additional evidence suggesting pills were pouring into the hands of criminals, company officials did not go to authorities until years later when the drug ring was out of business and its leaders under indictment. By then, 1.1 million pills had spilled into the illicit pipeline.
Within days of The Times' story, Everett officials quietly began looking into a lawsuit against the company and later hired a Seattle law firm to evaluate a case.
"We know this is a bold action we are taking, but it is the right thing to do," Mayor Ray Stephanson said.
The glut of OxyContin from California in the late 2000s created a new breed of addicts in Everett and the surrounding area. Those drawn to the pills included young people and professionals who saw the painkiller as more fashionable and less dangerous than street drugs.
Many became addicted and lost their homes, jobs and families. After Purdue reformulated OxyContin in 2010 to make it harder to abuse, addicts moved en masse to heroin, which has a similar effect.
Heroin remains an enormous problem in the region, with more than 40 residents fatally overdosing each year and government resources severely taxed. The sole detox center in the county has only 16 beds, but on any given day, the jail might have up to 160 inmates in need of detox, officials said. The city last year spent $160,000 removing trash from a single city block that has become an open-air drug market. Homelessness has exploded, with addicts living in encampments along highways, behind stores and in wooded areas throughout the city.
"A lot of individuals we are coming across have worked, have had a job, and somehow they were introduced to prescription drugs," said Staci McCole, one of two social workers recently embedded with the police department to help officers handle addicts.
City lawyers wrote in their suit that the heroin crisis "is directly attributable to Purdue's wrongful and tortious conduct."
"We believe that the flooding of the city with OxyContin caused the crisis," said Hil Kaman, Everett public health and safety director. "Our capacity to respond has been overwhelmed, and Purdue should pay for the harm they caused."
Although Everett is the first municipality to sue Purdue solely on the basis of criminal sales of its drug, other jurisdictions trying to recoup costs of the opioid epidemic have raised the issue, along with claims of fraudulent marketing. Two California counties that sued the company in 2014 said Purdue knowingly profited from criminal dealings of its drug, citing as evidence the company's Region Zero program, a secret database of more than 1,800 suspect doctors first revealed by The Times. By the company's own admission, less than 10 percent of those doctors had been reported to law enforcement.
After the newspaper's July story, the New Hampshire attorney general issued a subpoena for company records related to criminal trafficking in the state. The company has refused to turn over the material and is battling the state in appellate court over its use of outside lawyers.
In Everett, those personally affected by illicit use of OxyContin said they were heartened by the city's suit. Debbie Warfield's son, Spencer, became addicted to the drug after high school, often buying pills from street dealers. He later switched to heroin.
"You just couldn't imagine how your son could be shooting up heroin. It was beyond belief," Warfield said.
Spencer Warfield died of an overdose in 2012. He was 24. Of Purdue, she said, "I definitely think they need to take some responsibility."
"Honestly, it makes me want to cry because it is so overdue," said Lindsey Greinke, a former OxyContin and heroin addict who now runs an Everett nonprofit that helps people afford detox and treatment programs. "I hope something actually comes of it. We need it."
What a bunch of socialists. That's what capitalism is all about, maximizing profits. What if a few people don't know self control and get addicted and mess their lifes? Is not like the human cattle is an endangered specie. They're just collateral damage that will sort itself out.
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I agree with that tho. You should be able to buy the old school 80s oxy at less than 1 dollar over the counter. Same with any drug.
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In reply to this post by bajadrone-3
Bajadrone : Great post focused on a huge problem. You correctly widen the discussion to include Big Pharma medical pharmaceuticals into the discussion on Oxycontin an addictive analgesic.
As you suggest, Big Pharma often works in collusion with legislators "and" medical entities (doctors and related others). To broaden the discussion a bit more, I would like to shine light on Big Pharma's allied servant the: "advertising" industry (mainly TV, print, and various perks to doctors and hospital).
Let me briefly explain why I bring this up here. I once lucked out by sitting next to a Big Pharma advertising executive on a 3 hour flight from WDC to Phoenix. He gave me a host insights that help explain why things are like they are with respect to pricing legitimate medications and OTCs.
Here is some of what I learned:
1. Marketing and applied social and behavioral sciences. Of course, marketing experts and scientists design advertising to maximize sales and profits for the corporation while skillfully staying in bounds of legal constraints to avoid lawsuits. Marketing takes certain drugs and "loads" them with psychological meanings that may have little to do with the medication's main purpose and more with the needs and fears of consumers. [... this ploy also applies to medical devices lie for the elderly on Medicare]
2. The psychological loading on medication can involve many techniques that employ acting scripts and scenarios, packaging, placing and pricing techniques. [Similar to what is done in marketing anything ..from hamburgers to cars.]
3. Target populations are identified and marketing is specifically designed to fit their medical and psychological profiles.[ diabetics, depressives, the elderly, moms with young kids,etc]
In closing, with respect to analgesics like Oxycontin, Americans have been taught NOT to tolerate discomfort of any kind... an to be "happy". Thusly, Big Pharma has an ointment, salve, elixir, injection, or pill for you. Step right up. Cynically, many people end up being street addicts because they can't "take' what life dishes out and are "unhappy" variously defined).
Mi dos centavos, And so it goes....
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