Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, along with his wife Chirlane McCray, who directs the city’s mental health and drug addiction programs, filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of prescription opiates. These opiates, including OxyContin, fentanyl, and Percocet, have resulted in tens of thousands of drug abuse deaths across the United States. The lawsuit, claiming $500 million in damages, aimed to “hold manufacturers and distributors to account” for the crisis.
More than 60 lawsuits have been filed in federal court by cities and counties across the United States, and are being handled by one federal judge in Ohio: Dan Polster. Nominated to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by President Bill Clinton in 1997, he was confirmed by the Senate the following year. Polster was selected by a federal judicial panel in December 2017 to oversee more than 200 consolidated opioid-related lawsuits in multidistrict litigation.
New York City’s lawsuit targeted several companies led by Purdue Pharma, the creator of OxyContin. One of the original high-strength opioids, OxyContin entered the market two decades ago with an aggressive marketing campaign that failed to include warnings about addiction or abuse. Other defendants named in the lawsuit include Endo, the manufacturer of Percocet; Janssen, a fentanyl patch manufacturer; and Cephalon, the creator of fentanyl lozenge Actiq. Other defendants in the case include Teva, Watson, Johnson & Johnson, and Allegran.
High profile cases of opiate abuse have recently been in the headlines, with singers Prince and Tom Petty having fentanyl in their bloodstreams at the time of their deaths in 2015 and 2017. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 47.7 million people in the United States abused prescription drugs or used illegal substances in 2015, with almost five out of every one hundred people abusing prescription painkillers. That same year, over 50,000 drug overdose deaths were recorded, with prescription or illegal opioids accounting for over 60% of those deaths.
Mayor de Blasio said the opioid epidemic was “a national tragedy” during a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “It’s time for Big Pharma to pay for what they’ve done.” Zachary Carter, New York City’s top prosecutor, denied the idea that the lawsuit represented a city initiative, calling it a “coincidence of timing”. New York City’s suit is similar to one the city of Chicago filed in 2014, a case that has produced millions of pages of documents and hundreds of interviews. New York City is being represented by Simmons, Hanly, Conroy, a firm based in Alton, Ill., in the suit.