The Jefferson County Department of Health has joined a lawsuit against 44 manufacturers and distributors of a class of drugs called opioids.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2018 in the city of St. Louis circuit court, when Jefferson County joined a number of other cities and counties in Missouri in suing opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The sequel alleges that companies have known for years “that opioids are addictive and abused, especially when used long-term for chronic non-cancerous pain and should only be used in last resort “.
It demands “the reimbursement of public expenditure incurred in the fight against the opioid epidemic and of future expenditure to finance community efforts aimed at ending the crisis”.
Department of Health Director Kelley Vollmar said the Department of Health’s board of directors voted unanimously on August 26 to join the lawsuit.
âWe were initially approached to join the case when it was first filed, but it was shortly after the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) decision, and we didn’t think it was. the right time to step into the lawsuit, âshe said. noted.
The previous year, the Department of Health agreed to subscribe to a regional program (PDMP) run by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health after Jefferson County Council voted against its membership.
âWe were recently approached again, and we were told that we would be required to provide extensive information regarding our drug prevention efforts to the prosecution. Our board agreed that it would probably be a good idea to be at the table, âsaid Vollmar.
Jack Garvey of the law firm Carey, Danis and Lowe in Clayton, one of the leading litigators, also asked Comtrea, which provides health services throughout the county, to join the lawsuit.
Sue Curfman, chief executive officer of the agency, said on September 10 that Comtrea’s board has yet to decide on a course of action.
âWe are working with them to provide the information they requested,â she said.
Garvey said the Department of Health and Comtrea have been approached to be part of the lawsuit because they are receiving tax money and are on the front lines of the problem of opioid addiction.
The case seeks to recover costs that “the plaintiffs have paid and will continue to pay costs, including, but not limited to, law enforcement, public safety, incarceration, medical care, costs of treatment, counseling and withdrawal, family protection services and autopsies. This public expenditure could have been avoided, âaccording to court documents.
The case has changed jurisdiction several times since the cases were filed in 2018.
The Missouri case, which ultimately involved 18 counties and two cities, moved from St. Louis Circuit Court first to the Eastern District of the U.S. District Court in Missouri and then to Federal Court in Ohio.
Garvey said the court agreed to remove Jefferson and Franklin counties from the larger case and filed separate but identical cases to the original in the circuit courts in those counties.
In Jefferson County, the case was attributed to the division. 1 circuit judge Joe Rather.
Rather, a jury trial is expected to last 12 to 16 weeks from April 4, 2023.
âWe lobbied (for Jefferson County) to be separated,â Garvey said. âI can’t explain why the judge ruled in favor of our position, but we believe Jefferson County’s overall position gives it a different position. At one point, Jefferson County was # 2 in the state for per capita opioid cases and # 2 for opioid deaths.
The 261-page lawsuit charges 44 defendants, including Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical, Johnson and Johnson, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Amerisource Bergen Drug Corp., Express Scripts, Walmart, Target, Caremark, United Healthcare of the Midwest, OptumRX, Walgreens and CVS. A doctor in Saint-Louis, characterized in the lawsuit as running a “pill mill” which prescribed opioids at “a high rate”, was also cited as accused.
The lawsuit alleges that the targeted companies have known for years “that with prolonged use, the effectiveness of opioids decreases, requiring dose increases and dramatically increasing the risk of significant side effects and addiction.”
This widespread dependence, according to the lawsuit, leads to a number of societal ills.
âThe bad image and overabundance of opioids has caused death, abuse, drug addiction, crime and social and family destruction,â the lawsuit said.
Garvey concedes that this is a complicated question.
âThis is perhaps one of the most complex cases of all time,â he said. âThere are a lot of parties involved. “
Garvey said four of the defendants – McKesson, Cardinal Health, Johnson and Johnson and Amerisource Bergen – have offered to settle their parts of any case involving entities in Missouri, including that in Jefferson County, for a combined $ 455 million. of dollars.
âWe spoke with Attorney General (of Missouri) Eric Schmitt about what this will look like, from what each entity will get. Of all regulations, 85% must be used for opioid reduction programs. “
Garvey said the law firms involved will be paid from a special fund from any settlement or judgment.
âEven if Jefferson County loses, they won’t pay us money for the costs or the fees,â he said.
Two other defendants, Perdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt, have filed for bankruptcy and, under federal law, are not part of the active lawsuit.
âWe’re still going to sue them in bankruptcy court,â Garvey said.
âWe still have over 30 defendants, although some of them are subsidiaries of those who filed for bankruptcy. So it could still be tried, âhe said.
To prepare for a trial, Garvey said lawyers for all parties are in the discovery process, in which information is sought and examined.
He’s the one Vollmar said is worth being a part of.
âI think it’s a good thing that we’re a part of this,â she said. “I think this case will help fight the impact that opioids have had on our society, and it’s important for us to be a part of this fight in Jefferson County.”