New York City filed a $500 million lawsuit Tuesday against prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors, seeking to hold them accountable for their alleged part in the city's drug epidemic.
The lawsuit aims to recover expenses the city will incur in combating the crisis. In 2016, more than 1,000 people in New York City died of an opioid overdose, according to official data — the highest number on record.
“More New Yorkers have died from opioid overdoses than car crashes and homicides combined in recent years. 'Big Pharma' helped to fuel this epidemic by deceptively peddling these dangerous drugs and hooking millions of Americans in exchange for profit,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The lawsuit alleges the opioid epidemic was caused by manufacturers’ marketing and by distributors sending prescription painkillers into New York City. That in turn placed a burden on the city for increased substance use treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, inpatient hospital services, medical examiner costs, criminal justice costs and law enforcement costs.
The lawsuit also claims that manufacturers created a false perception that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks by using a coordinated, sophisticated and deceptive promotion and marketing campaign, which began in the late 1990s and became more aggressive around 2006.
Ann Marie Perrotto, a Staten Island woman who lost her 22-year-old son from a prescription opioid overdose in 2011, said it was time pharmaceutical companies were held accountable.
Over a dozen drug manufacturers and distributors are named in the multi-million dollar lawsuit, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.
"We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis and are dedicated to being part of the solution," Purdue Pharma spokesperson John Puskar said, adding "We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense."
More than 200 lawsuits against drug companies have been brought by local communities across the country, including those in California, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. The lawsuits have been consolidated into what is known as "multidistrict litigation," an approach taken when lawsuits of a similar nature are filed around the country.
It was not immediately clear whether New York's suit would be combined with others around the country. New Jersey filed its own lawsuit against the company last October.
First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the city's mental health and substance abuse efforts, said that through the lawsuit, the city "demands transparency and accountability from the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors who have profited from people’s pain."