January 23, 2018 / 5:29 PM / a month ago

New York City sues drug companies over opioid epidemic

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City on Tuesday sued eight companies that make or distribute prescription opioids, blaming them for fuelling a deadly epidemic afflicting the most populous U.S. city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the lawsuit sought $500 million of damages to help fight the crisis, which kills more people in the city annually than homicides and car accidents combined, including more than 1,100 from opioid-induced overdoses in 2016.

“Big Pharma helped to fuel this epidemic by deceptively peddling these dangerous drugs and hooking millions of Americans in exchange for profit,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The defendants include manufacturers Allergan Plc (AGN.N), Endo International Plc (ENDP.O), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (TEVA.TA), and distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N), Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N) and McKesson Corp (MCK.N).

All were accused in the city’s complaint of creating a public nuisance, and the distributors were accused of negligence.

Allergan, Endo, J&J, Purdue, Teva, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson in separate statements emphasized the importance of using opioids safely.

Endo, J&J and Purdue also denied the city’s allegations, while McKesson declined to comment on the lawsuit. Cardinal Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

New York City, whose population is about 8.54 million, joined a long list of U.S. states and municipalities to sue drug companies over opioid abuse, which U.S. President Donald Trump has called a national public health emergency.

    Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, played a role in 42,249 U.S. deaths in 2016, up 28 percent from 2015 and 47 percent from 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    In its complaint filed in state court in Manhattan, New York accused manufacturers of having for two decades misled consumers into believing that prescription opioids were safe to treat chronic non-cancer pain, with minimal risk of addiction.

    The city also said distributors fueled abuse through oversupply, including a failure to identify suspicious orders and report them to authorities, contributing to an illegal secondary market.

    Prescription opioids, such as Purdue’s OxyContin and Endo’s Percocet, are regulated as controlled substances.

    New York City said roughly 2.5 million to 2.7 million opioid prescriptions were filled there each year from 2014 to 2016.

    The case is City of New York v Purdue Pharma LP et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 450133/2018.

    Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Andrew Hay

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