Everett’s suit against OxyContin maker moves to federal court

EVERETT — The company that makes OxyContin wants to fight in federal court, not Snohomish County, over a lawsuit blaming it for Everett’s struggles with rampant opioid addiction.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of potent prescription pain medication, on Feb. 10 filed paperwork to move the case from Snohomish County Superior Court to U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The city of Everett brought the lawsuit Jan. 19, alleging Purdue for years maximized drug profits by choosing to ignore evidence it was supplying illegal “pill mills” and drug traffickers, flooding the black market with OxyContin.

The city contends that the drug maker helped plant the seeds for what is officially considered a local epidemic of addiction to heroin and other opioids.

Federal jurisdiction is appropriate for several reasons, including the amount of damages the city is expected to allege, wrote attorney Thomas Adams, whose Seattle law firm, Karr Tuttle Campbell, is representing Purdue.

The drug company also asked to have until late March to formally respond to the city’s allegations.

The claims raised by Everett are based on events “occurring several years ago (2007-2010), including events in California, which are diverse, novel and raise complex questions requiring further analysis,” Adams wrote.

Everett agreed to the extended deadline and did not challenge Purdue’s desire to move the case.

Purdue was sued a decade ago by the state of Washington. Attorneys general in several states alleged it had engaged in deceptive marketing practices. The company agreed to pay the states $19.5 million as part of a 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. The claim is based in part on the criminal prosecution of Jevon Lawson, who moved to Snohomish County from California and was arrested for selling large amounts of OxyContin. The Daily Herald first wrote about Lawson’s indictment in 2011.

The lawsuit also points to a drug ring in Los Angeles and a clinic that was used to divert OxyContin to people such as Lawson. A Purdue representative wrote of being afraid to visit the California clinic because the people there appeared to be gang members, documents show.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.

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