Everett files suit against drug company over opioid epidemic

Earlier: Everett ready to sue OxyContin maker over opioid deaths, crime

EVERETT — Purdue Pharma, the maker of a potent prescription pain medication, knew it was supplying drug traffickers and flooding the black market with OxyContin but chose to ignore the rampant diversion to maximize the company’s profits, the city of Everett is alleging in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

Litigation a decade ago required Purdue to implement controls to prevent illegal diversion. The company was required to track suspicious orders and notify law enforcement if criminal activity was suspected. Purdue ignored its duty and allowed for OxyContin to flow into the hands of “pill mills,” and drug rings, Seattle attorney Christopher Huck wrote in the lawsuit.

“The resulting drug abuse, addiction, and crime caused by Purdue have imposed, and will continue to impose, sizable costs on Everett, both social and economic,” he added.

The city has hired Huck’s firm to take on the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company. The City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to go forward with the lawsuit, the first of its kind for Everett.

The lawsuit does not include a dollar amount. It claims, however, that the city has spent and will need to spend significant tax dollars to address addiction in the community. Many believe that prescription pain medication abuse has led to the heroin crisis across the country.

In 2010, Purdue changed the formula of its product to make it more difficult to abuse. Subsequently, cities began seeing a spike in heroin use, drug overdoses, street crimes and homelessness.

A Purdue spokesman sent The Daily Herald a statement Thursday, saying that the company shares concerns about the opioid crisis and is committed to working collaboratively to find solutions. “Although OxyContin accounts for only 2 percent of all pain-related opioid prescriptions, Purdue is an industry leader in abuse deterrence as we were the first pharmaceutical company to develop an opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties.”

The company also issued a statement in July following a series by the L.A. Times about prescription drug abuse and Purdue’s response. The company argued that it had worked with law enforcement to crack down on diversion and cooperated in the prosecution of drug traffickers.

Purdue was sued a decade ago in Washington. Several states alleged it had engaged in deceptive marketing practices. The company agreed to pay the states $19.5 million as part of consent judgment. Washington received just over $700,000. As part of the judgment, Purdue agreed to implement diversion detection programs.

Everett’s lawsuit claims that Purdue ignored its obligations. It points to the criminal prosecution of Jevon Lawson, a California transplant, living in Snohomish County, who was selling large amounts of OxyContin. The Daily Herald wrote about Lawson’s indictment in 2011.

The lawsuit also points to a drug ring in Los Angeles that “formed a clinic called Lake Medical to use as a front for its racketeering operation,” Huck wrote. The lawsuit included a series of emails reportedly from Purdue representatives about their knowledge of suspicious activity at Lake Medical.

One company representative wrote of being afraid to visit the clinic because the people there appeared to be gang members, documents show.

“Despite such knowledge, however, Purdue did not notify the DEA or other authorities,” Huck wrote.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463l; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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