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Local construction workers’ unions sue drug companies over opioid crisis

This Aug. 29, 2018 photo shows an arrangement of prescription Oxycodone pills in New York. | AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Two Chicago-area labor unions representing construction workers have filed a lawsuit seeking damages from drug companies over their role in the nationwide opioid crisis.

The Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 filed the suit Wednesday morning in Cook County Circuit Court, naming OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and dozens of other drug companies, distributors and professional organizations as defendants.

The suit is seeking damages for the drug companies’ “unconscionable efforts to maximize profits at the expense of union members’ lives, families and communities,” the unions said in a joint statement.

The unions are claiming opioid manufacturers participated in a “targeted misinformation campaign” to promote opioid use and increase prescriptions and sales, leading to a nationwide rise in overdoses and fatalities.

“Workers experiencing pain-related injuries have been overprescribed opioids that have little if any medical benefit and lead to addiction, despair and death, while our welfare funds have been compelled to shoulder the unjustifiable financial burden of related health care and disability payments,” Local 150 President-Business Manager James M. Sweeney said in a statement.

The nine-count suit accuses the defendants of violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act; fraudulent misrepresentation; insurance fraud; negligence; public nuisance; civil conspiracy; and unjust enrichment. It is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

Cook County previously filed a lawsuit against drug manufacturers for their role in the opioid crisis, as did DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake counties.

Recent court filings in Massachusetts alleged that the family behind Purdue pushed to aggressively market OxyContin while also seeking to profit off the drug abuse crisis by selling drugs to treat addiction or reverse overdoses.

Purdue Pharma did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

Disclosure notice: Some labor organizations have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor, which is affiliated with the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and IUOE Local 150.