EVERETT — The city of Everett is firing back at the maker of the prescription pain medication OxyContin, arguing that the drug company is trying to rewrite history in an attempt to kill a lawsuit that alleges the manufacturer chased profits while ignoring black-market diversion of its addictive product.
In a civil case filed in January in U.S. District Court, Everett alleges that Purdue Pharma for years knowingly allowed Oxycontin to reach drug traffickers and doctors who ran “pill mills.”
That alleged business model planted the seeds for what health officials now say is an epidemic of opioid addiction and deaths in Snohomish County, city officials contend.
The multibillion-dollar drug company countered in March, seeking the lawsuit’s dismissal. Among other things, Purdue insists it had alerted law enforcement about the drug’s misuse. It also questions whether Everett has legal standing to bring the case.
Attorneys for the city last week responded to the dismissal motion. No action is expected until sometime next month, at the earliest.
Lawyers Michael Goldfarb, Christopher Huck, Kit Roth and R. Omar Riojas filed a 31-page brief detailing the reasons the court should not toss out Everett’s case before it gets a chance to be heard by a jury at trial.
“The underlying theme of Purdue’s motion is its novel theory that a municipality (like Everett) should never be allowed to pursue claims against a manufacturer (like Purdue) for knowingly supplying a dangerous product (like Oxycontin) into the black market,” they wrote.
The lawyers cited multiple cases — one involving gun manufacturer Glock and other companies that sell toxic chemicals — to support the contention that Everett has a legal right to hold the manufacturer of a product responsible for the harm done to the community.
The city also challenged Purdue’s claim that it acted appropriately when faced with evidence that its drugs were being diverted for illegal purposes.
Purdue has characterized the lawsuit as painting “a completely flawed and inaccurate portrayal of events that led to the crisis in Everett.”
Everett’s lawsuit says the company didn’t follow through on its promises, made to settle earlier litigation in Washington, to create a robust system to detect drug diversion.
The city’s lawyers point to the criminal prosecution of Jevon Lawson, a California transplant who financed his attempt to become a rap star by selling large amounts of OxyContin in Snohomish County prior to his indictment in 2011. The lawsuit cites a series of emails reportedly from Purdue representatives about their knowledge of suspicious activity at a California clinic that was used as a front for drug trafficking.
Purdue counters that law enforcement knew of Lawson and the California clinic as early as 2009.
In a footnote included in the new pleadings, Everett’s lawyers argue that response isn’t good enough.
“Purdue ignores that if it had not supplied OxyContin to the black market in the first place, or simply made the right choice to stop, then there would be no illegal trafficking,” they wrote.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.
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