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City of Dayton sues drug makers for role in overdose epidemic

The city of Dayton is suing more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies, distributors and pain specialists it alleges caused the opioid crisis that has killed thousands of Ohioans, drained public resources and wasted taxpayer dollars.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley on Monday announced the city is filing suit because she says drug companies and distributors have financially benefited from the state’s worsening opiate epidemic while Ohio’s communities and residents suffered.

“We believe the drug companies made this mess, and it is time they stop passing the buck to Ohio’s taxpayers and started paying to clean it up,” Whaley said. “The drug companies are profiting, and we are paying for it.”

RELATED: Kettering, county already surpass 2016 fatal overdose totals

The city’s lawsuit comes less than one week after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the state will sue five pharmaceutical companies that marketed addictive prescription pain medication.

Whaley, however, said the state’s lawsuit does not go far enough to hold accountable all of the parties responsible for opiate addiction.

DeWine and Whaley are both running for Ohio governor and have made battling opiate addiction a key pillar of their platforms.

Multiple companies named in the lawsuit reached by this newspaper said they are concerned about improper use of opiate medications and denied wrongdoing or acting irresponsibly.

“We firmly believe the allegations in this lawsuit are both legally and factually unfounded,” Jessica Castles Smith, a spokeswoman with Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. “Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label.”

RELATED: Ohio AG DeWine sues drug companies over opiate problem

The city is filing the lawsuit in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

“This case is about one thing: corporate greed,” according to the lawsuit’s introduction. “Defendants put their desire for profits above the health and well-being of the city of Dayton consumers at the cost of plaintiff.”

The defendants include some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies as well as a few of the most prominent U.S. advocates for using opiates to treat pain.

In the 1960s, more than 80 percent of people who used opioids started with heroin, Whaley said.

Today, she said, nearly 80 percent of opioid users began with prescription painkillers, many of whom then graduated to heroin and Fentanyl to feed their addiction.

“The heroin epidemic is no accident, it did not just happen,” Whaley said. “It started with the drug companies.”

The city’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the harmful impact the crisis has had on citizens, taxpayers and city resources, city leaders said.

Opiate addiction comes with a heavy cost to families, Ohio communities, first responders and taxpayers, and the problem is growing, Whaley said.

Dayton officials have talked with other Ohio cities for nearly a year about taking legal action against drug makers, distributors and bad physicians, Whaley said.

DeWine’s lawsuit is a step in the right direction but is limited to just five drug companies, while the city’s suit also targets culpable distributors and doctors, Whaley said.

Dayton officials said the city of Lorain is expected to soon file a lawsuit against drug companies and distributors.

“Cities big and small across Ohio are struggling to serve our citizens with the increasing number of accidental overdoses,” said Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer in a statement.

Last week, Montgomery County surpassed the record 349 accidental overdose deaths reported in 2016 — with more than half the year remaining.

Dayton police, fire and EMS personnel so far this year have responded to more than 1,800 calls for service related to suspected drug overdoses, which is on track to double last year’s total, said police Chief Richard Biehl.

Dayton first responders have administered more than 7,600 milligrams of Narcan this year, which is already 50 percent more than they used in 2016, Biehl said.

The epidemic is “taxing public safety resources, and there is no end in sight,” Biehl said.

The city’s lawsuit seeks relief for Dayton’s first responders, who are experiencing burn-out from the mental stress and physical demands of responding to so many drug overdoses and drug-related incidents, said Dayton fire Lt. Sarah Marshall.

Drug addicts and overdose patients can be violent. First responders also are at risk of making contact with Fentanyl, which can be absorbed through the skin, and needles belonging to people with HIV and other contractable diseases, officials said.

Dayton has hired Cleveland law firm Climaco, Wilcox, Peca & Garofoli Co. to assist with the lawsuit, said Barbara Doseck, Dayton’s law director.

Doseck said the city is not paying the firm, which instead has a retainer agreement that means it will be get a certain share of any award or settlement the city wins.

“That’s standard with this type of litigation,” she said.

The companies and parties named as defendants in the lawsuit include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan, Endo Health Solutions, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corp., Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster.

Portenoy, a pain specialist, was a vocal and nationally-known advocate for using opioid medications.

Fine and Fishman are physicians and served on the board of the American Pain Foundation. Webster had served as the president of the American Academy of Pain Medication.

Endo, a Pennsylvania company, when asked about the state’s law suit last week, told this news organization its policy is not to comment on ongoing or current litigation.

In 2007, Purdue accepted responsibility for actions taken prior to 2002 by some of its employees, when the company settled with the federal government and multiple states, including Ohio, regarding the addictive qualities of OxyContin, the company said in a statement.

“In the years since then, we have dedicated ourselves to collaborating with policymakers, public health officials and law enforcement to address the opioid crisis, which includes developing abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone,” the company said. “We take FDA regulations seriously, and we are in full compliance.”

Lori Erion, founding director of the local group Families of Addicts, said she fears the lawsuits could have negative unintended consequences.

“My fear is it will drive up the cost of needed pharmaceuticals,” she said.

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