Citing a spike in overdose deaths, growing demands for drug treatment and a strained budget, officials in Akron, Ohio’s Summit County filed a lawsuit Wednesday against companies that make or distribute prescription opioids. On Monday, Smith County in Tennessee did the same. On Tuesday, nine cities and counties in Michigan announced similar suits, the New York Times reports. Cities, counties and states are turning to the courts in the spiraling opioid crisis. What began with a handful of lawsuits has grown into a flood of claims that drug companies improperly marketed opioids or failed to report suspiciously large orders. Close to 200 civil cases have been filed by local governments in the federal courts; dozens of other suits are in state courts; attorneys general from 41 states have banded together to explore legal options.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers met this week in Cleveland, where a judge has been assigned to oversee at least 189 federal cases, an indication that the legal fight could start to move more quickly. Some lawyers compare the trend to state litigation against the tobacco industry in the 1990s, which ended with a global settlement. “This litigation is like a big hammer — it’s like a tool where you’re hitting somebody upside the head to get their attention,” said Mike Moore, who as Mississippi attorney general filed the first state case against the tobacco industry in the 1990s and who now represents some government entities. “We have a public health emergency. It’s time to quit talking about it and, if people are serious about fixing it, let’s sit down and resolve it.” A spokesman for Purdue Pharma, which developed OxyContin, said, “Unlike the past tobacco litigation, our medicines are approved by [the Food and Drug Administration], prescribed by doctors, and dispensed by pharmacists, as treatments for patients suffering from severe pain.”