Cook County’s lawsuit part of statewide effort to address opioid epidemic

SHARE Cook County’s lawsuit part of statewide effort to address opioid epidemic
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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced Wednesday that they are suing big pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing and marketing drugs like Oxycontin that have led to a spike in opioid-related deaths. | AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

If the opioid crisis continues, Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the epidemic will claim the lives of more than 2,700 Illinoisans by 2020.

That number is in addition to the 11,000 lives the epidemic has already claimed from 2008 to September 2017, and was a catalyst for the state’s action plan to address how painkillers are over-prescribed.

Beyond the plan, individual counties have taken the matter to court, hoping to hold drug manufacturers and those selling the painkillers accountable for their role in the epidemic.

“The State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan presents our collective call to action to address the most significant public health and public safety crisis facing Illinois,” Shah said in a statement. “We’ve compiled multiple data sources and will soon be able to report on overdoses in real time. Only by engaging all sectors — health care providers, local agencies, law enforcement, community groups, individual citizens and national partners — can we truly make an impact in fighting this deadly crisis.”

Cook County officials announced Wednesday morning that they are also suing several big pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis. Five suburban counties sued the same companies last week.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx filed the suit against pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing and “aggressively marketing” painkillers.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma said they are “deeply troubled” by the crisis. Though their products account for around 2 percent of total opioid prescriptions, the company says it is dedicated to educating people about the drugs effects.

“As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge,” the statement said. “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

Abbott Laboratories, Inc., which is also listed as a defendant, said in a statement it “no longer sells any pharmaceuticals in the U.S. and discontinued co-promotion with Purdue nearly 14 years ago.”

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-8th District, the founder of the West Side Heroin Taskforce, has worked at minimizing the opioid and heroin crisis on the city’s West Side, and he says the lawsuits are justified.

“These companies are responsible for many of these addictions because they’re pushing these drugs,” Ford said. “To address this, we have to make sure we’re being strategic in getting people to one day not be dependent on these drugs.”

Ford says the conversations around the opioid epidemic often lacks an understanding of the root causes of opioid use. While he’s glad the state has recognized the problem, it’s still not putting its money where it’s most needed — namely the South and West Sides.

Illinois is one of 14 states that have seen an increase in overall drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014.

The state’s action plan has three main parts:

• The first is aimed at educating the public about opioid use.

• The second focuses on increasing deflection and diversion programs to keep people from seeing jail time, and to get them into recovery programs.

• The objective of the third pillar is to increase access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. Overall, the action plan hopes to decrease the number of opioid-related deaths by a third.

DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake Counties filed lawsuits against the same companies for making and marketing prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet. Roughly 100 counties around the country have done the same.

RELATED: SNEED: Opioid ‘epidemic’ prompts Cook County to sue pharmaceutical companies MITCHELL: Response to opioid epidemic proves drug addiction isn’t colorblind LETTERS: Opioid epidemic begs for treatment funding

Cook County, which provides services for those addicted to opioids, did not specify the amount it is seeking in damages, but pharmaceutical companies have cashed in on making and selling the highly addictive drugs. In 2012 alone, opioids generated $8 billion in revenue for drug companies, the county’s lawsuit states. Of that amount, $3.1 billion went to Purdue for its OxyContin sales.

In a statement, Teva Pharmaceuticals said it is “committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines” and it works with drug providers and prescribers to help them understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse.”

“We work to educate communities and healthcare providers on appropriate medicine use and prescribing, we comply closely with all relevant federal and state regulations regarding these medicines,” the statement said in part.

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