Mayor Ray Stephanson of Everett, a town of 108,00 near Seattle, Washington, addressed the growing illegal use of painkillers and heroin, spending millions on police and social welfare programs. With a lawsuit against the makers of pain medication OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, the city alleges that company knowingly allowed the drug to enter the black market and bring about the addictions. The lawsuit claims that Purdue Pharma did not stop the practice and thus must pay damages. The city is seeking to recoup the cost of everything from picking up discarded needles and syringes, to law enforcement and social services.
"Our community has been significantly damaged, and we need to be made whole," said Stephanson, who has been mayor since 2003. The crisis of opioid addiction is linked to "Purdue's drive for profit," said the mayor. While the lawsuit has not provided a dollar figure for restitution, Stephanson says the amount will soon be quantified. Stephanson was "absolutely outraged" when the Los Angeles Times reported in 2016 that Purdue had evidence that suggested that its pills were being illegally trafficked but allegedly did not notify officials or stop the flow of the drug. The article in the Los Angeles Time prompted the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is now before a federal court in Seattle. Purdue Pharma is accused of gross negligence and nuisance. Purdue, according to the lawsuit, is guilty of "supplying OxyContin to obviously suspicious pharmacies and physicians and enabling the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market" and thus into Everett. However, Purdue Pharma does have a program identify suspicious sales.
In a statement, Purdue Pharma says the lawsuit is inaccurate and flawed. "We look forward to presenting the facts in court," it said. Moreover, the company is "deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication.” According to Purdue Pharma, it leads the pharmaceutical industry in medicines that deter abuse, even while its products account for less than 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions in the country.
Purdue Pharma and its executives paid over $630 million in legal penalties to the federal government in 2007 for willful misrepresentation of the addiction risks associated with OxyContin. It also settled with the state of Washington and other states that claimed Purdue Pharma pushed OxyContin to doctors while lessen the risk of addiction. Purdue Pharma also agreed to continue identifying potential diversion or abuse.
The Everett lawsuit claims that Purdue created a market of pills for addicts that had not existed until the company allegedly allowed its product to hit the streets. The region had a spike of deaths in 2008 caused by OxyContin and other opioid painkillers, followed by another batch in 2010 due to addicts switching to heroin after OxyContin was reformulated and became more expensive. The reformulation of OxyContin pills meant that they became harder to crush for injection, chewing, snorting, or smoking.