HOUSTON— Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez held a news conference Wednesday to announce that they will be filing a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals who they feel are responsible for the opioid epidemic.
Ryan is adamant that the drug manufacturers, distributors, doctors and a pharmacist should be held responsible for their roles. Ryan says these manufacturers cost Harris County residents their health -- even their lives -- and taxpayers millions in healthcare and law enforcement.
The lawsuit names pharmaceutical companies that manufacture, promote, sell and/or distribute opioids in Texas and Harris County, doctors and a pharmacist. The suit accuses the defendants of creating a public nuisance, conspiracy and neglect. Four local doctors and a pharmacist were named as co-defendants because they participated in the conspiracy and profited from it.
“These defendants placed their quest for profits above the public good,” said Ryan. “Unfortunately, Harris County has found itself in a battle against opioids and the crushing financial effect of this epidemic.”
Ryan’s lawsuit maintains that the defendants knew that the use of opioids had the potential to cause addiction and other health maladies. Driven by profit, the suit says the defendants engaged in a campaign of lies, half-truths and deceptions to create a market that encouraged the over-prescribing and long-term use of opioids, even though there was no scientific basis to support such use. Unfortunately, the suit says, the campaign worked and resulted in an exponential increase in opioid abuse, addiction, and death. That increase required Harris County to expend its limited resources to help those affected by this crisis and protect the community from harms associated with the opioid epidemic.
The lawsuit lays out the damages that resulted, directly and indirectly, from the behavior of the defendants:
• The cost of opioid medications that would not otherwise have been prescribed, i.e., unnecessary or excessive opioid prescriptions
• Work loss expense attributable to individuals who are addicted to opioids or who suffer adverse health effects due to use of opioids
• Time and expenses incurred by county criminal justice agencies related to handling matters arising from opioid use
• Law enforcement time and expenses incurred by county agencies related to handling matters arising from the opioid epidemic
• Hospital and medical costs associated with adverse health effects from opioid addiction
• Costs and expenses incurred by social services agencies due to the opioid epidemic
• Costs and expenses to third parties due to the conduct of addicts
Ryan is asking that the court order the defendants to abate the public nuisance they created. He is seeking actual and punitive damages, penalties and fines, and attorneys’ fees and the costs of litigation.
“These defendants successfully created and nurtured an environment in which opioid abuse was a virtual certainty,” said Ryan. “By spending millions of dollars to convince people that they needed opioid drugs, these defendants produced a network of drug distributors, dispensers and prescribers who preyed upon a generation of dependent drug users and abusers. The defendants constructed a population of citizens whose initial use of opioids was legal and legitimate, but was transformed into an addition that could be fulfilled only by the use of illegal street drugs.”
Research shows that approximately 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. Nationally, the number of deaths due to opioid overdose have quadrupled since 1999 with 91 Americans now dying every day from opioid overdose. In 2015, 2588 people died in Texas from opioid overdose with Harris County accounting for 318 deaths.
“Prescription opioids are big business for pharmaceutical companies, who make upwards of $10 billion a year on them,” said County Attorney Ryan. “The number of opioid prescriptions has risen from 112 million in 1992 to nearly 249 million in 2015. Americans now consume four-fifths of the global supply of opioids. Harris County and its residents have suffered enough. We must stop this obscene scheme to hook people on opioids with the disastrous consequences that follow.”