OxyContin maker Purdue asks court to dismiss Everett lawsuit

EVERETT — Purdue Pharma, the maker of a prescription pain medication, is asking a federal judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by the city of Everett that alleges the multibillion-dollar company ignored rampant diversion of OxyContin to the black market.

Purdue claims that the city’s allegations are largely based on a false theory that the pharmaceutical company didn’t alert law enforcement of illegal diversion. The records in two criminal prosecutions into drug trafficking show that “law enforcement was, at the time, already aware of, and investigating, the criminal conduct of physicians, pharmacies and gang members at issue,” Purdue’s attorney, Thomas Adams, wrote in court papers.

The motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle makes several legal arguments, including claims that Everett lacks the standing to sue the drug maker or hold it responsible for the city’s costs associated with responding to addiction and crime.

“While we are deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication, this lawsuit paints a completely flawed and inaccurate portrayal of events that led to the crisis in Everett,” the company wrote on its website.

Everett claims that Purdue allowed its product to flow into the hands of “pill mills” and drug rings. The diversion resulted in drug abuse, addiction and crime here, Everett’s lawyers claim. The Daily Herald first reported about the lawsuit in January.

Everett had been studying for months how to make a case that Purdue is responsible for the community’s surge in overdose deaths, homelessness and street crime, Mayor Ray Stephanson told The Daily Herald. Many believe that prescription pain medication abuse has led to the heroin crisis across the country.

“We are going to go at them, and we are going to go at them hard,” Stephanson said in January.

The lawsuit doesn’t name a dollar amount. It notes, however, that Everett has spent and will need to spend significant tax dollars to address addiction in the community.

“The city and our outside legal counsel have received Purdue’s response to our lawsuit, and we look forward to presenting our arguments to the court refuting Purdue’s position,” the city said in a statement released Tuesday. “The city remains committed to holding Purdue accountable for allowing OxyContin to be funneled into the black market, causing the current opioid crisis in Everett.

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 a consent judgment. Washington received more than $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,” Seattle attorney Chris Huck wrote in the lawsuit. Everett hired Huck’s firm to take on Purdue.

The lawsuit included a series of emails reportedly from Purdue representatives about their knowledge of suspicious activity at Lake Medical.

Purdue disputes the claim, saying law enforcement was aware of Lake Medical and Lawson dating back to 2009.

Records show that federal agents and the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force had launched an investigation into Lawson in 2007. By June 2008, law enforcement had searched Lawson’s Mill Creek-area house and made undercover buys. He admitted then that he was selling OxyContin.

Purdue also claims that the Drug Enforcement Administration advised a wholesale distributor in 2009 that Lake Medical was under investigation.

“In short, Purdue cannot have been a proximate cause for not advising law enforcement what public filings demonstrate law enforcement already knew,” Adams wrote.

The city would impose a duty on Purdue to “protect local municipalities against intentional, illegal trafficking of that prescription drug by criminals in their municipalities based on an obligation to monitor and report to law enforcement ‘suspicious orders’ of the prescription drug more than 1,000 miles away,” Adams wrote.

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

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