Camden County sues drug makers to recoup the millions its spent fighting opioid crisis

This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo, File)

This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo, File)

In a wide-ranging civil lawsuit filed in state court Wednesday, Camden County blames pharmaceutical companies for knowingly causing the opioid epidemic and forcing the local government to expend millions of dollars to fight it.

The county is the latest local government in the Philadelphia area to sue drug makers for flooding the market with legal, but highly addictive painkillers in recent years, leading to a nationwide drug epidemic.

In addition to accusing the pharmaceutical companies of deceptive marketing practices, Camden County claims that firms peddling addictive opioids should be on the hook for the expensive measures the county government has taken to combat addiction.

Some of those costs, estimated to be in the millions, include medication, health insurance, addiction treatment, and drug-related hospital stays for county employees and retirees, according to the suit. The county has also seen budgets bulge for its police, jail, medical examiner, and homeless services as a result of the opioid epidemic.

There are indirect costs to the drug crisis, too, the lawsuit alleges, such as the loss of productivity resulting from county workers who were absent for reasons related to their addiction.

“The county has incurred significant costs and a loss of resources in trying to curb this epidemic,” said Louis Cappelli, director of the Camden County Freeholder Board. “In many of our municipalities, our police officers are now the first responders to deal with this crisis created by these greedy bastards.”

Camden is no stranger to the opioid epidemic: The county had 277 fatal overdoses last year, according to data provided by officials. A third of them were in Camden city, where police responded to nearly one overdose per day.

“It’s time for us to make them pay us back,” Cappelli said.

The suit is seeking monetary and injunctive relief, as well as additional funding for awareness and treatment programs.

Defendants in the case are manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories, Cephalon, Teva USA, Endo International, Janssen, Insys Therapeutics, and Mallinckrodt; drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Cardinal Health; and retailers Rite Aid, Costco, Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Health Corporation.

Also named in the 177-page complaint are Dr. Richard Sackler, the estate of Mortimer Sackler, and the estate of Raymond Sackler. All three men were part of the notorious Sackler family that owned and operated Purdue Pharma when it began producing the painkiller OxyContin.

In the lawsuit, Camden County accuses the drug makers of racketeering, a statute more often used in organized crime cases.

The drug makers “expanded the market for prescription opioids through a fraudulent and deceptive marketing campaign that over-emphasized” the need to treat patients for pain with opioids, the county claims in the court filing.

Although the lawsuit was filed in civil court, other New Jersey officials have brought criminal charges against drug makers accused of playing a part in the opioid epidemic.

Last year, former New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino filed fraud and false claims charges against Insys Therapeutics — which is also named in the Camden County suit — and founder John Kapoor for fraudulently marketing the fentanyl spray Subsys, which the complaint claims caused the death of a 32-year-old Camden County woman.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.