The Mayor of Everett, Washington is battling back against a major opioid crisis that he believes has led to a rise in street crime and heroin abuse. Mayor Ray Stephanson is suing Purdue Pharma, makers of Oxycontin, alleging they are responsible for the epidemic by knowingly funneling pills into the black market and the city. The Associated Press reported:
Everett's lawsuit, now in federal court in Seattle, accuses Purdue Pharma of gross negligence and nuisance. The city seeks to hold the company accountable, the lawsuit alleges, for "supplying OxyContin to obviously suspicious pharmacies and physicians and enabling the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market" and into Everett, despite a company program to track suspicious flows.
"Our community has been significantly damaged, and we need to be made whole," said Stephanson, who grew up in Everett and is its longest-serving mayor, holding the job since 2003.
He said the opioid crisis caused by "Purdue's drive for profit" has overwhelmed the city's resources, stretching everyone from first responders to park crews who clean up discarded syringes. The lawsuit doesn't say how much money the city is seeking, but the mayor says Everett will attempt to quantify its costs in coming months.
However, the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker Purdue Pharma denies the allegations and claimed they are inaccurate.
"We look forward to presenting the facts in court," the company said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
Purdue also added that they lead the industry in developing medicine specifically designed to deter abuse, but its products account for less than 2 percent of all U.S. opioid prescriptions.
In contrast, a medical study published by the New England Medical Journal in 2012 links abuse-deterrent pills to a substantial increase in heroin abuse.
“Our data show that an abuse-deterrent formulation successfully reduced abuse of a specific drug but also generated an unanticipated outcome: replacement of the abuse-deterrent formulation with alternative opioid medications and heroin, a drug that may pose a much greater overall risk to public health than OxyContin," wrote Theodore Cicero, Ph.D., Matthew Ellis, M.P.E., and Hilary Surratt, Ph.D.
Abuse of opioid pain medication is not unique to a small city in Washington; it's spreading throughout the country. Most notably in the state of West Virginia, where four counties lead the nation in fatal overdoses caused by pain pills.
Purdue Pharma also has a history of legal troubles regarding oxycontin. In 2007, the company pled guilty to misleading regulators, doctors and patients about the oxycontin's risk of addiction and abuse. Purdue was forced to pay over $600 million in fines and other payments.