Minneapolis on Friday sued a group of opioid manufacturers and distributors, joining a long list of governments in Minnesota and across the country that have recently taken legal action against the companies.
The city’s lawsuit takes aim at more than a dozen firms, arguing their actions to promote prescription opioid drugs, such as OxyContin, have caused an addiction crisis straining the city’s resources. The suit comes several months after county attorneys from across Minnesota, including Hennepin County, announced their intentions to sue the firms.
And it follows unsuccessful efforts at the Legislature to pass a “penny-a-pill” tax on opioids to combat and respond to the addiction problem.
“With legislative efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable stalled at the state and federal levels, our city is charting its own legal course and bringing the fight directly to opioid manufacturers and distributors,” Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement. “For years they knowingly helped fuel this crisis — they need to provide the resources and support to help repair the damage.”
The suit highlights Purdue Pharma’s development of OxyContin in the 1990s, and the subsequent promotion of that and similar drugs for common pain problems — misrepresenting their addictive properties.
“By providing misleading information to doctors about addiction being rare and opioids being safe even in high doses, then pressuring them into prescribing their products by arguing, among other things, that no one should be in pain, the [manufacturers] created a population of addicted patients who sought opioids at never-before-seen rates,” the city’s complaint says.
Representatives for Purdue did not return messages seeking comment on Friday.
City Attorney Susan Segal said the city’s goals are twofold: To impose penalties on the companies for their actions, and reimburse the city for the extra services it has had to provide. The number of opioid-related calls to the Minneapolis Fire Department has risen by 13,000 — or 59 percent — since 2010, for example.
“This has cost our city government money in terms of fire department response and police response,” Segal said.
In two years, the Minneapolis Fire Department has administered about 500 doses of the lifesaving drug naloxone in response to an uptick in overdoses, according to the city’s fire chief.
The complaint zeros in on the impact to Minneapolis’ Little Earth community, an American Indian public housing development near Franklin Avenue that has been rocked by overdose deaths. Needles have been discovered in nearby sandboxes, the suit says, and teenagers have had to be trained to revive overdosing family members.
Jolene Jones, president of the Little Earth Residents Association, said one night in 2016 nine people overdosed in 12 minutes — resulting in one death. The association has led training in naloxone.
“We need help in our community,” Jones said. “And the pharmaceutical companies don’t care what they’ve done to us.”
As of last November, more than 100 similar lawsuits had been filed by governments across the country, according to Governing Magazine. Many additional lawsuits have been filed since then.