County of Marin - News Releases - Pharma Lawsuit

For Immediate Release
May 09, 2018

County Sues Big Pharma for Overmarketing Opioids

Attorneys cite concerted strategy to encourage usage, leading to health epidemic

San Rafael, CA – The County of Marin is filing suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against 12 pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers alleging that they misled the public about the dangers of opioid addiction, causing sales and overdose rates to soar.

The Marin County Counsel’s Office, led by Brian Washington, is initiating litigation May 9 that will be transferred from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to be included as part of the ongoing nationwide multidistrict opioid litigation.

The defendants are listed as Purdue Pharma, Cephalon Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Endo International PLC, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Insys Therapeutics, Mallinckrodt PLC, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, AmericasourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corp.

These companies “engaged in a concerted, coordinated strategy to shift the way in which doctors and patients think about pain and, specifically, to encourage the use of opioids to treat not just the relative few who suffer from acute post-surgical pain and end-stage cancer pain, but the masses who suffer from common chronic pain conditions,” the complaint alleges.

According to recent estimates, the cumulative nationwide costs associated with the opioid epidemic have exceeded $1 trillion, with another $500 billion in costs projected by 2020. On a local scale, counties such as Marin have experienced rising costs related to addressing the epidemic. Drug overdoses have been the leading cause of accidental death in Marin for the past five years – far outpacing the second-leading cause, motor vehicle accidents – and most of the overdoses are linked to opioids.  Between 2004 and 2013, the number of prescribed opioid painkillers doubled in Marin, as did related emergency room visits, admissions for painkiller addictions and overdoses of prescription medications. According to 2016 statistics, Marin had more prescriptions for opioids than households.

The County alleges that, over the past 20 years, the defendants aggressively marketed and falsely promoted liberal opioid prescribing as presenting little to no risk of addiction, even when used long-term for chronic pain. The defendants said the risk of becoming addicted to prescription opioids was less than 1 percent when, in reality, up to 56 percent of patients receiving long-term opioid prescriptions risk addiction to the medications, according to estimates. The defendants infiltrated academic medicine and regulatory agencies to convince doctors that treating chronic pain with long-term opioids was evidence-based medicine when it was not, the County alleges.

Marin was among the first California counties to approach opioid abuse as a public health crisis, which has helped reduce the number of opioid prescriptions and overdose deaths in the County. The Department of Health and Human Services was a co-founder of RxSafe Marin, a grassroots coalition of community agencies and individuals committed to eliminating prescription opioid abuse and associated deaths. Several other counties around the country are using RxSafe Marin as a model to create their own localized initiatives to stem the crisis.

“This litigation is the next step in the County’s ongoing leadership in combating the crisis,” Washington said.


Brian Washington
County Counsel
Office of the County Counsel

Marin County Civic Center
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6117
Email: Brian Washington