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Local

Kane County sues drug makers over opioid epidemic

Kane County State's Attorney Joseph McMahon spoke Dec. 21 at a press conference in Wheaton where it was announced that DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake counties have filed lawsuits against some of the largest pharmaceutical companies over fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers,
Kane County State's Attorney Joseph McMahon spoke Dec. 21 at a press conference in Wheaton where it was announced that DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake counties have filed lawsuits against some of the largest pharmaceutical companies over fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers,

WHEATON — Kane County is one of five suburban counties in Illinois that joins a growing trend across the U.S. to sue the biggest opioid pharmaceutical manufacturers in an attempt to recoup costs of battling an epidemic of addiction.

Attorneys for McHenry, DuPage, Kane, Will and Lake counties filed separate lawsuits Thursday against several pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Lake Bluff-based Abbott Labs and Naperville-based Purdue Pharma, and three doctors. County officials gathered Thursday at the DuPage County Government Campus to announce the lawsuits.

“The end goal is to get the drug manufacturers to abate the public nuisance they created and to compensate all the counties for all the damages and losses that occurred and are ongoing. As we stand here today, these losses continue to mount," DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin said.

Paul Hanly of Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is representing each county except Lake County. He is currently representing around 100 different counties around the U.S. on similar cases.

"Over the last six years, 257 people in Kane County have died from opioid use," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said. "That is more than all the gang, domestic violence, murders and reckless homicides combined over that same time period. My partners in public health, our coroner Rob Russell and executive director of the health department Barbara Jeffers, have confirmed 52 opioid deaths this year alone. Over the next 10 days, that number is expected to rise by as many as 14 as we receive final toxicology test results over the next couple of weeks."

The lawsuit claims that the drug companies' deceptive marketing of pain pills have led to 2.1 million Americans with an opioid use disorder, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The counties seek an unspecified amount of damages it spends each year on health care, pharmaceutical care and necessary services and programs for addicts.

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said no dollar amount has been set for how much each county has spent on the epidemic and the cost will be found during the discovery process.

"We expect it to be a sizable sum in the millions of dollars range," Kenneally said.

The lawsuit specifically named Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Dr. Perry Fine, Dr. Scott Fishman and Dr. Lynn Webster.

The lawsuit will not be paid for with taxpayer dollars, Kenneally said. The costs will be covered by the law firm, and if the counties win, Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC will receive 25 percent of the amount awarded for each county.

Hanly first sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, in 2003. Since then, he has represented thousands of pain patients who became addicted to opioids through pain pills.

Purdue settled for $75 million in 2006, admitting the company had downplayed the addictive risk of its medicine. Now, Hanly is setting his sights on a bigger settlement, as he represents cities and counties in five states across the U.S.

Kenneally compared the suits that are popping up every month to the litigation against the tobacco industry that resulted in a $246 billion settlement in 1998.

The lawsuit says companies knew opioids were addictive and too debilitating for long-term use and that the effects of opioids wears off after prolonged use, requiring increased dosages.

Controlled studies on the safety and efficacy of opioids were limited to short-term use no longer than 90 days, but defendants created a false perception of safety to both medical professionals and the public, the suit says.

Companies used a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive in 2006 and continues today, the suit states.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen spoke out against the marketing practices.

"Anyone who knows me in my public and private career understands how much I value the business community and how much I believe government should stay out of the way of business progress," Lauzen said. "But when a company knowingly conspires to create marketing proven to encourage addiction, increase crime, add hundreds of millions of dollars in tax burden and destroy young lives, it is government’s duty and responsibility to take action."

McMahon said the lawsuit will take several years and he expects the litigation will be contested, but the counties are prepared to see the suit through to it's end.

Kenneally said he thinks other counties across the state will join.

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