The City of Philadelphia is tackling the opioid epidemic killing hundreds of people in the city by targeting companies that make powerful painkillers.
On Wednesday, Mayor Jim Kenney, City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante and city health officials accused major drugmakers, including some with U.S. headquarters in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, of “deceptive marketing of prescription opioids.”
“The epidemic currently plaguing the city has exacted a grim toll on Philadelphia residents and their families,” Kenney said. “And the cause can be directly linked to methods used by manufacturers to market and sell their products to doctors and the public. Those tactics have to end.”
The number of deadly overdoses in Philadelphia in 2017 is expected to reach 1,200, one-third more than 2016. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Philadelphia suffered a higher rate of overdose deaths than any other major American city.
One in three Philadelphians has been prescribed an opioid painkiller in the past 12 months, the city estimates.
“The opioid crisis is the largest public health crisis this city has seen in a century, and it has been fueled by drug companies," Philly Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. “It’s well past time for those companies to stop pushing these drugs and start helping us cope with the human tragedy they have caused.”
The 172-page suit filed in Philadelphia Commons Pleas Court names several companies with local ties as defendants. Among them: Teva, an Israeli company which has its U.S. headquarters in Horsham; Cephalon, which was based in Frazer, and Endo Pharmaceuticals, an Irish company with U.S. headquarters in Malvern.
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Also named as defendants were New Jersey’s Allergan/Actavis, Janssen Pharmaceutical and Johnson & Johnson; and Connecticut’s Purdue Pharma.
The suit seeks to halt what the city calls deceptive marketing practices and force the drugmakers to pay for treatment costs and reimburse Philadelphia for the money it has spent responding to the addiction epidemic. The epidemic is so bad the city has dedicated an EMS unit to drug overdose response.
“City agencies have incurred large, burdensome, unnecessary and avoidable costs to address the crisis,” City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante said. “It is our duty to devote all resources we can to help protect the public from further perils and to finally put an end to the practices which are the root of this epidemic."
Drug companies have said in similar lawsuits they don't believe litigation is the answer, but have pledged to help solve the crisis. After the filing of the Philly suit, Teva, Allergen, Endo, Janssen and Purdue said they are committed to curbing illegal prescription drug use. Endo, Janssen and Purdue also denied the city’s claims.
The city is joining a growing list of U.S. cities and states, including New Jersey, suing painkiller manufacturers.
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a statewide disaster emergency that suspends regulations hindering access to addiction care.
NBC10 received theses responses from drug companies named in the Philly suit:
"Teva is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines, and we recognize the critical public health issues impacting communities across the U.S. as a result of illegal drug use as well as the misuse and abuse of opioids that are available legally by prescription. To that end, we take a multi-faceted approach to this complex issue; we work to educate communities and health care providers on appropriate medicine use and prescribing, we comply closely with all relevant federal and state regulations regarding these medicines, and, through our R&D pipeline, we are developing non-opioid treatments that have the potential to bring relief to patients in chronic pain. Teva also collaborates closely with other stakeholders, including providers and prescribers, regulators, public health officials and patient advocates, to understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse without sacrificing patients’ needed access to pain medicine."
“It is important to put into perspective Allergan’s role regarding opioids. Allergan’s two branded opioid products – Norco and Kadian – account for less than 0.08 percent of all opioid products prescribed in 2016 in the U.S. These products came to Allergan through legacy acquisitions and have not been promoted since 2012, in the case of Kadian, and since 2003, in the case of Norco. Allergan has a history of supporting – and continues to support – the safe, responsible use of prescription medications. This includes opioid medications, which when sold, prescribed and used responsibly, play an appropriate role in pain relief for millions of Americans.”
"Endo is dedicated to providing safe, quality products to patients in need and we share the public concern regarding opioid abuse and misuse. We are committed to working collaboratively to develop and implement a comprehensive solution to the opioid crisis, which is a complex problem with several causes that are difficult to disentangle. Any serious solution must therefore be multifaceted and consider, among other things, the legitimate access needs of the millions of patients suffering from acute or chronic pain who rely on opioids to improve their quality of life.
"Toward that goal, Endo has taken meaningful action during the past year by voluntarily ceasing opioid promotion and eliminating its entire product salesforce. Endo also voluntarily withdrew Opana® ER from the market following FDA’s request despite having a statutory right to challenge that request, implemented additional anti-diversion measures and terminated its new opioid product development programs.
"It is Endo's policy not to comment on current litigation. That said, we deny the allegations contained in this lawsuit and intend to vigorously defend the Company."
"Responsibly used opioid-based pain medicines give doctors and patients important choices to help manage the debilitating effects of chronic pain. At the same time, we recognize opioid abuse and addiction is a serious public health issue that must be addressed.
"We believe the allegations in the lawsuits against our company are both legally and factually unfounded. Janssen has acted in the best interests of patients and physicians with regard to its opioid pain medicines, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about possible risks on every product label. According to independent surveillance data, Janssen opioid pain medicines consistently have some of the lowest rates of abuse among these medications, and since 2008 the volume of Janssen opioid products always has amounted to less than one percent of the total prescriptions written per year for opioid medications, including generics. Addressing opioid abuse will require collaboration among many stakeholders and we will continue to work with federal, state and local officials to support solutions."
“We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2 percent of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”