First suit of its kind in Colorado
by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — Attorneys representing Huerfano County, led by Stephen D. Ochs of Colorado Springs, this week filed a lawsuit against a number of large pharmaceutical companies who, the lawsuit claims, have profited on a massive scale with the sale of opioids using false and misleading statements and advertising, the result being an opioid addiction crisis in Huerfano County and across the nation.
“By causing an explosion in opioid prescriptions and use, defendants have created or assisted in the creation of a public nuisance in Colorado, including Huerfano County,” the lawsuit alleges.
Earlier this year Ochs made a presentation about the potential filing of a lawsuit in the county’s name. The county commissioners took into consideration the fact the lawsuit would be done on a contingency basis which thus would not cost county taxpayers any money, and the fact the proposed contract with Ochs exempted any monetary loss incurred by the county for legal fees or court costs if Huerfano County lost the case and a judgement was awarded to the defendants. Satisfied there would be no cost to county taxpayers, the commissioners agreed to join the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is one of many across the nation filed by local and state governments with similar allegations against big pharmaceutical companies.
Huerfano County is the first governmental entity in Colorado to take on the so-called BigPharma companies. The 73-page civil lawsuit was filed Sunday, January 28 in U.S. District Court in Denver. Huerfano County Commissioner Max Vezzani said the commissioners and the county attorney were aware the suit would be filed to meet a specific timeline. Vezzani said at the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday he had not fully read the lawsuit, but intended to.
The lawsuit blames the companies for targeting “susceptible prescribers and vulnerable patient populations (by making) false and misleading statements” about the addictive prescription drugs. Those drugs include oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The county seeks money from the companies as compensation for costs of public services the county otherwise would have not incurred. The lawsuit claims “past economic damages exceeding $750,000”; and contends future damages exceeding $1.5 million will occur. However the lawsuit does not appear to explain specifically how those amounts were calculated. The suit doesn’t appear to cite specific examples of any public nuisance cause by the companies, although it alleges public safety expenses and increased medical cost borne by the taxpayer have resulted.
In addition to a money award, the suit also seeks a federal court order against the named defendants to stop making “any further false or misleading statements.”
Some of the more well known defendants are Johnson & Johnson, McKesson Corp., Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Frederick company.
The companies “falsely trivialized or failed to disclose the known risks of long-term opioid use,” the lawsuit alleges, blaming the firm’s actions on corporate greed.
The big pharmaceutical companies have settled federal lawsuits amounting to millions of dollars in cases with similar allegations, as well as settling other governmental entity lawsuits in settlements to have those lawsuits withdrawn.