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'Huge profits resulted from these efforts': Cass County, Grand Forks sue opioid manufacturers, marketers

Naloxone, an antidote to opioid overdoses, is shown here with two needles and alcohol swabs. Forum file photo

FARGO — Cass County and the city of Grand Forks have joined in a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, a company at the center of the opioid crisis, and related companies in an effort to recoup unspecified damages associated with the wave of addictions and overdoses.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday, March 26, in U.S. District Court in North Dakota and is separate from a suit filed earlier by the North Dakota attorney general against Purdue, which is expected to seek bankruptcy protection.

“North Dakota has not been spared the tragedies stemming from the crisis,” stated the lawsuit from Cass County and Grand Forks. The number of deaths related to opioid overdoses more than tripled in the state from 2013 to 2015, and the use of heroin increased by 400 percent, according to the lawsuit.

In 2016, the Cass County coroner attributed 31 deaths to opioid overdose, and Grand Forks saw three opioid overdose deaths that year.

Those deaths stemmed partly from saturation prescription of opioids, the lawsuit contends, noting that about 466,000 opioid prescriptions were written in 2015 — 60 prescriptions for every 100 people in North Dakota.

The following year, in 2016, the state’s medical examiners reported 54 opioid overdose deaths.

Nationally, more than three-fifths of drug overdose deaths involved opioids, and drug overdose deaths three years ago — 63,000 — exceeded the number of Americans killed during the Vietnam War, according to the lawsuit.

“The absolute cost of dealing with the epidemic has spiked as well,” the lawsuit said. “For example, the Grand Forks Fire Department and the local Altru EMS administered more than three times as much Naloxone” — an antidote to opioid overdoses — “in 2017 than they did in 2010, reaching a new high of 47 in 2017.”

The city of Grand Forks has distributed more than 275 naloxone kits since August 2017, and all high schools and middle schools in Cass County began carrying naloxone starting in November 2017.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Purdue and its partners began aggressively marketing opioids, fraudulently undermining established medical science that showed the dangers of long-term opioid use, the lawsuit said.

“Put simply, the Marketing Defendants manipulated and misrepresented medical science to serve their own agenda at great human cost,” the lawsuit said.

“They infiltrated academic medicine and regulatory agencies to convince doctors that treating chronic pain with long-term opioids was evidence-based medicine when, in fact, it was not,” the suit added. “Huge profits resulted from these efforts, as did the present addiction and overdose crisis.”

Cass County commissioners voted last August to independently sue opioid manufacturers and marketers rather than joining North Dakota’s lawsuit. Many other states, including Minnesota, as well as many tribes also are suing over the opioid crisis.

"We know that there are impacts from opioid addiction here in Cass County," said Robert Wilson, the county's administrator. "The county's sole motivation in pursuing litigation is just to be able to provide some of the treatment that we know will be needed by our citizens who have been affected by the opioid epidemic here in Cass County."

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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