SNEED: Opioid ‘epidemic’ prompts Cook County to sue pharmaceutical companies

SHARE SNEED: Opioid ‘epidemic’ prompts Cook County to sue pharmaceutical companies

The opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. | Associated Press file photo

Opioid painkillers are ravaging the health of Cook County residents, so much so that State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are going to court to combat the problem, Sneed has learned.

County officials on Wednesday morning sued the nation’s leading pharmaceutical companies over their aggressive marketing of prescription opioid painkillers and the resulting climb in overdose and fatality rates countywide.

This comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by several suburban Chicago counties against opioid manufacturers.

Among other things, their lawsuit seeks compensation for the millions of dollars in opioid-related costs incurred by county taxpayers. The county has had to divert funding from other programs to pay for these costs, the suit claims.

According to the lawsuit, taxpayers are helping bankroll:

• The cost of treating Cook County Health and Hospitals System patients who overdose on opioids;

• The cost of opioid treatment and prevention programs at Cook County Jail;

• And the cost of a dramatic increase in Cook County medical examiner’s autopsies for opioid-related deaths, which in 2016 accounted for more deaths than for gunshots and vehicular deaths combined.

According to the medical examiner’s office, 647 people died from drug overdose deaths involving opioids in Cook County in 2015. Opioid-related overdose deaths in the County rose to 1,091 in 2016, an increase of 70 percent.

As of early December, there have been 847 documented opioid-related deaths so far this year.

“The impact that opioids are having on Cook County cannot be ignored,” Foxx said in a statement. “We see it in every part of the County, and the human cost is truly staggering. We must act in the public interest and hold accountable those who have been complicit in the creation of this epidemic.”

“Opioid deaths in Cook County are growing at an alarming rate. This is a public health crisis affecting nearly every community in the County for which we must find a solution,” Preckwinkle said. “We believe a good start is to aggressively confront one of the root causes of this national epidemic: the pharmaceutical companies and those paid by the pharmaceutical companies who put profits before public health and safety.”

RELATED: Cook County’s lawsuit part of statewide effort to address opioid epidemic MITCHELL: Response to opioid epidemic proves drug addiction isn’t colorblind LETTERS: Opioid epidemic begs for treatment funding

Defendants in the lawsuit include Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Co.; Abbott Laboratories; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA; Cephalon Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Cook County is being represented by Simmons Hanly Conroy and Meyers & Flowers, two of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions.

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