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McLean County Names 45 Defendants In Opioid Lawsuit

Don Knapp
Jeff Smudde
McLean County State's Attorney Don Knapp led efforts to bring the lawsuit against drugmakers and distributors.

McLean County has officially joined thousands of state and local governments that have sued drugmakers and distributors over the opioid epidemic.

The 258-page lawsuit, filed this month in McLean County court, names 45 defendants, including many already facing litigation in other jurisdictions. The defendants include Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and several members of the Sackler family that ran Purdue. It also names Johnson & Johnson, which was told Monday it must pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million over the opioid crisis. The lawsuit also names several distributors, including Springfield-based H.D. Smith.

McLean County and its attorney, Melissa Sims, claim the drugmakers “engaged in a massive false marketing campaign to drastically expand the market for such drugs and their own market share.” They claim the distributors “reaped enormous financial rewards by failing to monitor and restrict the improper distribution of those drugs.” As a result, McLean County was left to pay the bill for substance abuse treatment, law enforcement, implementation of a drug court, the overdose antidote Narcan, and other costs.

The lawsuit cites a comment allegedly made by top Purdue figurehead Richard Sackler at an OxyContin launch party in the mid-1990s. He spoke of a “blizzard of prescriptions” for the potent painkiller, and added “the prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white,” the lawsuit claims.

“Over the next 20 years, the Sacklers made Richard’s boast come true. They created a manmade disaster which has buried children and parents and grandparents across McLean County, and the burials continue,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit claims that 35.5 million doses of prescription opiates were sold in McLean County between January 2012 and October 2017. The population of McLean County is around 172,000. 

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 9 in McLean County court. Many of the opioid lawsuits have been filed in federal court in Ohio.

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance represents at least three of the distributors named in McLean County's lawsuit: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. It issued a statement to WGLT in mid-July as McLean County worked toward bringing its suit.

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders," said John Parker, a senior vice president for communications at Healthcare Distribution Alliance. "It’s also critical to understand the role of each stakeholder across the supply chain. Distributors do not conduct research, manufacture, market, or prescribe medications, nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products, or patient-benefit designs. The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

The McLean County Board signed off on State’s Attorney Don Knapp’s plan to file the lawsuit in July. Sims would be paid only if the county gets money from an award or settlement—a so-called contingent fee arrangement. Sims would get up to 25% of any amount collected, Knapp said.

The case is set for case management conference Jan. 2, 2020, with Judge Paul Lawrence.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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