Minnesota fights back on opioid crisis – by suing big pharma

20 counties are suing pharmaceutical companies that distribute opioids.

The Essentials

– 20 Minnesota counties, including Ramsey, Hennepin and St. Louis, announced Thursday they are suing multiple big pharmaceutical companies over their distribution of opioids.

– In Minnesota, opiate overdoses were responsible for 395 deaths in 2016 – half of them from pain medication. 

– The counties want pharmaceutical manufacturers to be accountable for their role in opioid addiction, and pay for some of the costs incurred by the taxpayers to deal with it.

The Big Picture

This might sound like a strange step – government entities suing companies that legally make and sell a prescription drug.

But it's becoming way more common, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse finding three-quarters of opioid abusers said a prescription drug was their first opioid.

More than 100 cities, states and counties have filed lawsuits against drug companies, Governing reported, attempting to hold them accountable for the opioid crisis sweeping the nation.

In civil complaints filed Thursday, 20 Minnesota county attorneys accuse big pharmaceutical companies – including Johnson & Johnson, Noramco and Actavis – of fraudulent marketing and irresponsible distribution of prescription opioids.

They seek to "recoup monies that have been spent because of [the companies'] false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids."

At a press conference on Thursday, WCCO reports Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said: "This isn’t a money grab. This is asking them to help us pay for the crisis they’ve put in our laps."

"This is a public nuisance and they need to help us clean it up," he added.

The city of Minneapolis has also started pursuing its own legal action against drug companies.

The Atlantic compares the opioid legal actions to a 1998 lawsuit against tobacco companies, filed by 46 states and six other jurisdictions. The case was settled, the tobacco companies agreed to pay the states – forever – to fund public health and anti-smoking efforts.

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