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City Suing to Recover Opioid Epidemic Costs

08/27/2019
City Suing to Recover Opioid Epidemic Costs
The City of Allentown today filed a federal complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania seeking to recoup economic losses attributable to what the City alleges is false, deceptive, and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids by 20 defendants.

The eight-count complaint in part alleges that the conduct of the defendants has exacted a financial burden for which the City seeks relief. The city has incurred (1) costs of EMS and other city departments in responding to and treating opioid-related emergencies, including opioid overdoses; (2) costs incurred by the police and other city departments in addressing law enforcement and public safety threats caused by the opioid epidemic; (3) costs associated with providing medical care, therapeutic care, prescription drug purchases, and other treatments for city employees and others who receive health insurance from the City, and; (4) costs incurred by the City health bureau and other city departments in connection with providing health services, social services, and preventative education to mitigate the harms caused by the opioid epidemic in Allentown. The complaint includes counts alleging fraud, public nuisance, and violations of the federal RICO statute.

Mayor Ray O’Connell said, “the defendants have made huge profits on the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of opioids while the City of Allentown and its residents have paid the high costs of providing services directly related to opioid-related emergencies and addictions. This suit is a way to battle back.”

“The opioid multidistrict litigation has exposed a shocking pattern of racketeering and fraud by Big Pharma, resulting in last week’s historic settlement for Ohio counties,” said attorney Joe Khan. “Filing this complaint today ensures that Allentown gets a stake in the outcome of this fight.”

In Lehigh County, 308 people died of drug overdoses between 2016 and 2017, with most of those deaths being related to opioids. More than a third of these people died within the city limits of Allentown. Not counting deaths that occurred at hospitals, 72 Allentown residents died of an overdose in 2017 alone.

The opioid epidemic is a growing threat to not only the city’s public health but also its public safety. Opioid-related crimes include theft of money or property to finance opioid addiction; theft of prescription opioids from friends, relatives or others; and crimes committed while under the influence of opioids. Opioid abuse has adversely impacted neighborhood public safety and well-being in the City. Opioid addiction has led to an alarming number of “strong arm robberies” in Allentown, with more than 1,500 such robberies in the last 10 years alone.

The complaint details some of the ways in which city resources have been severely drained by the opioid epidemic. Allentown’s first responders have been on the front lines of battling this epidemic. EMS, for example, has responded to thousands of emergency calls to rescue those suffering from the effects of opioid abuse. Although EMS bills patients for its services, its paramedics must provide care without regard to a patient’s ability to pay. Consequently, the uncompensated care costs associated with treating overdoses have ballooned, resulting in losses of more than $4 million in just the last nine years. Allentown police officers are increasingly resuscitating overdose victims with Narcan (naloxone), recently placing Lehigh County in the top five counties in Pennsylvania for naloxone administrations by law enforcement. At the same time, in just the last four years, Allentown police officers have suffered dozens of injuries in drug-related encounters, requiring treatment, testing, and time away from work. Of the instances where the nature of the narcotics was determined, more than one-third involved opioids.

The lawsuit also seeks to recover damages incurred as a result of the opioid epidemic on city employees and their families. Certain opioid manufacturers named in the complaint failed to sufficiently inform the City about the severe risks of opioid use while also misrepresenting the comparative safety and efficacy of opioids over competing, safer non-opioid pain relievers. The deception by these defendants were a substantial factor in causing the City, which is a self-insured entity, to pay for opioids for chronic pain in quantities and amounts that it would not have otherwise.

Additionally, wholesale drug distributors owe duties under both federal and Pennsylvania law to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse to fill, and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids. Today’s lawsuit seeks damages from major distributors of opioids for breaching these duties and thereby causing the widespread diversion of prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes into Allentown and the surrounding area.

Today’s lawsuit seeks all legal and equitable relief as allowed by law, including, injunctive relief requiring each of the defendants to stop their destructive behavior and take constructive steps to reduce opioid addiction in Allentown. In addition, Allentown is seeking to be compensated for numerous damages, including:

a. Losses caused by the decrease in funding available for public services for which funding was lost because it was diverted to other public services designed to address the opioid epidemic;
b. Costs for providing healthcare and medical care, additional therapeutic, and prescription drug purchases, and other treatments for patients suffering from opioid-related addiction or disease, including overdoses and deaths;
c. Costs of training emergency and/or first responders in the proper treatment of drug overdoses, including the administration of naloxone;
d. Costs associated with emergency responses by police officers, firefighters, and emergency and/or first responders to opioid overdoses, including the administration of naloxone;
e. Costs for providing mental-health services, treatment, counseling, rehabilitation services, and social services to victims of the opioid epidemic and their families;
f. Costs associated with law enforcement and public safety relating to the opioid epidemic, including but not limited to attempts to stop the flow of opioids into local communities, to arrest and prosecute street-level dealers, to prevent the current opioid epidemic from spreading and worsening, and to deal with the increased levels of crimes that have directly resulted from the increased homeless and drug-addicted population;
g. Costs associated with clean-up of public parks, spaces, and facilities of needles and other debris and detritus of opioid addiction.

The City of Allentown is represented in this litigation by attorneys Joe Khan and John Grogan of Langer Grogan & Diver P.C., a Philadelphia-based law firm. The firm has been retained on a contingent basis only such that the City will not be indebted to the firm for any legal fees unless and until a recovery is made. A copy of the 264-page suit can be obtained by clicking on the Lawsuit Filed icon on the city website homepage www.allentownpa.gov

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photo: teensdrugabuse.gov

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