SF Becomes Latest To Sue Pharma Cos. Over Opioid Crisis

Posted December 19th, 2018.

As It Appeared On
Law360

By Dave Simpson

Law360 (December 19, 2018, 6:50 PM EST) — The city and county of San Francisco hit a slew of drugmakers with a suit in federal court Tuesday, alleging that they broke federal laws by marketing opioids as safe and effective, joining dozens of cities, states and government agencies to sue the pharmaceutical companies over the crisis.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Wednesday that the suit, which names manufacturers including Purdue Pharma LP; its owner, the Sackler family; and wholesalers such as San Francisco-based McKesson Corp., is expected to be transferred to the massive multidistrict litigation currently underway in Ohio federal court.

“These companies and the people who own them put their greed ahead of human lives,” Herrera said in a release. “The companies that marketed these drugs manipulated and misrepresented medical science to serve their own agenda. They intentionally misled doctors and patients about the appropriate uses, risks and effectiveness of prescription opioids.”

The suit claims that the pharmaceutical companies violated California law by being negligent and engaging in fraudulent concealment. It also claims that that the companies violated state business laws. Finally, it hits the companies with claims of violations of federal statutes, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

“The defendants who advertised these drugs engaged in widespread fraud that involved conspiracy and mail and wire fraud to deceptively market opioids,” the city’s release said of the RICO charges.

According to the suit, more than 318,000 prescriptions were written for opioids in San Francisco in 2017, more than 311 prescriptions for every 1,000 residents, and 194 emergency department visits resulted from opioid overdoses, excluding heroin.

In May, 30 California counties sued top drugmakers and distributors for their alleged role in the epidemic, also putting forth RICO claims and announcing that they would join the Ohio MDL.

Those suits came just days after the city of Los Angeles launched its own suit, and follows in the footsteps of the state of New York, Philadelphia and several other municipalities.

In September, Boston joined dozens of other cities and towns in Massachusetts, hitting Purdue, Insys Therapeutics Inc. and more than a dozen other drugmakers and distributors with a lawsuit in state court as a result of the opioid epidemic.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied a request from plaintiffs representing “opioid babies” — infants of mothers who were addicted to prescription drugs — to separate their suits into a distinct multidistrict litigation, ruling that their unique damages don’t outweigh the inconvenience caused by such a separation.

The panel ruled that separating the actions involving children with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, in which infants who become dependent on drugs in the womb suffer from withdrawal, would create duplication and hinder the cases.

The panel noted substantial overlap between the infants’ cases and an MDL in the Northern District of Ohio in which local governments are suing drugmakers over the opioid epidemic, saying the factual questions of opioid distributors and manufacturers’ knowledge and conduct are at the heart of all the suits.

The municipalities are represented by the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP; Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP; Renne Public Law Group; Andrus Anderson LLP; Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP; Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP; and Weitz & Luxenberg PC.

Counsel for the drug companies was not immediately known Wednesday.

The case is City and County of San Francisco et al. v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al., case number 3:18-cv-07591, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

–Additional reporting by RJ Vogt. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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