Wayne and Oakland Counties are filing a joint lawsuit against a dozen drug companies for their part in the nation’s opioid epidemic. The suit alleges that drug manufacturers and distributors of drugs like OxyContin and Fentanyl knowingly downplayed the drugs’ potential for addiction to patients and doctors. The suit claims drug manufactures funded false studies that promoted opioid prescription, while drug distributors failed to report suspicious sales.
The suit also claims the companies took part in a mass disinformation campaign to broaden the use of opioids for common chronic pain conditions. “It all relates to the same deceptive acts,” says Lead Counsel Powell Miller. “[The companies] can make a lot more money if these drugs [are] used for people with chronic pain and not just people who have end-stage cancer or acute pain like after a surgery or a terrible accident.”
Powell says by marketing opioids as a treatment for common chronic pain conditions, drug companies are able to advertise for ailments that affect a third of the U.S. population. As a result, Powell says Michigan doctors wrote 11 million prescriptions for opioids last year, while there are nearly 10 million people living in Michigan.
“The opioid industry has taken a page out of big tobacco’s playbook,” says Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. “They utilized misleading information, marketing campaigns, and studies to convince the public that their product was safe.”
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans says the opioid prescription market helps foster the use of its cheaper counterpart: heroin. “We also believe that the human cost and the financial costs to counties is significant,” says Evans. “We think that some compensation is necessary for bad behavior.”
Wayne County says opioid-related deaths jumped to 817 last year, up 61 percent from 2015. That year, 33,000 people nationwide died from opioid-related overdoses, more than any year on record.