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Tacoma latest to sue manufacturers of opioids

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 13, 2017, 7:29 p.m.

SEATTLE – The city of Tacoma is suing three large manufacturers of prescription opioids seeking to hold them accountable for problems the city has faced related to opioid addiction.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court alleges that Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions and Janssen Pharmaceuticals made false and misleading statements about the benefits and risks of opioids to doctors and patients over the past two decades.

The city alleges that the drug manufacturers falsely claimed that the risk of opioid addiction was low and deceptively marketed abuse-deterrent properties of their painkillers, among other things.

Tacoma has suffered significant economic damage, in public safety, health care, and other costs as well as a human toll, the lawsuit alleges.

City Manager Elizabeth Pauli said Tacoma wants to hold the opioid manufacturers liable for the harm to the community and financial burden to taxpayers.

The city said in the lawsuit that it has spent a lot of money providing human services to the community “as a result of the epidemic Defendants have created.”

Tacoma’s homeless population has increased over the past decade and that the jump “is undoubtedly caused in part by the opioid epidemic,” the lawsuit said. The city estimates that at least half of the city’s homeless population is addicted to opioids.

“Prescription opioids have not only helped to fuel the homeless crisis, but have made it immeasurably more difficult for the City to address,” the lawsuit said.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma, which makes the prescription painkiller OxyContin, vigorously denied the allegations. It said it shared public officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and was committed to working together to find solutions.

Endo, which makes the painkiller Percocet, declined to comment on litigation but said its top priorities include patient safety. It said it shares in the FDA’s goals of “appropriately supporting the needs of patients with chronic pain while preventing misuse and diversion of opioid products.”

A message left with Janssen, which makes Duragesic, was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Tacoma joins other cities and states in suing drug manufacturers for their alleged role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.

In January, Everett sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, seeking to hold it accountable for social and economic damages to the community due to illegal trafficking of the powerful painkillers.

The company has asked a federal judge in Seattle to throw out the lawsuit. A federal judge in Seattle is expected to hear arguments Monday.

Tacoma’s lawsuit asks for an unspecific amount in damages.