Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. announced Wednesday, July 25, 2018, that Jackson County, Missouri has filed a civil lawsuit against the nation’s leading pharmaceutical companies for their deliberate and deceptive marketing strategies of opioid painkillers, resulting in high overdose and fatality rates throughout Jackson County.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, seeks to hold the defendants responsible for “creating the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history – the misuse, abuse and over-prescription of opioids.”
“Opioid deaths in Jackson County are growing at an alarming rate. It is time to aggressively confront the pharmaceutical companies, who put profit over public health and safety, and hold them accountable,” said Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. “We cannot afford to let another day go by without taking action. Too many lives have been lost, too many families are in pain and too many communities have been destroyed because of opioid addiction. It must stop now.”
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Bureau of Vital Statistics, Jackson County’s opioid death rate is higher than 75% of counties in Missouri. This, in a state where at the end of 2017, opioid overdose deaths exceeded traffic deaths reported by the highway patrol. Additionally, at least 308 Jackson County residents died of opioid overdoses between 2013 and 2017. There were 101 opioid-related deaths in 2016 alone.
In 2016, the Jackson County Legislature approved the creation of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, in partnership with St. Louis County because Missouri was the only state in the union without a statewide PDMP. Operations began in April 2017 with 14 jurisdictions and has now grown to 64.
The PDMP electronic database is used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients. According to the lawsuit, in the second quarter of 2017, Jackson County had an opioid dispensation rate of approximately 628 opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people.
These staggering statistics have reshaped daily reality for various departments and divisions in Jackson County, putting a strain on the County’s annual budget. As more lives need to be saved, treatment programs, emergency services, law enforcement and the criminal justice system continue to be severely impacted by the crisis.
“We are doing everything in our power to prevent an individual from getting multiple opioid prescriptions, making it more difficult for them to abuse the drugs,” White said. “We allocate significant resources in treatment programs, housing, education and employment services to help stop this vicious cycle. But the only way to fully address this crisis requires those responsible to pay for the nuisance and harms fueled by their reckless actions.”
The County seeks relief in the complaint that includes compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars it spends each year to combat the public health crisis created by the defendants’ unlawful marketing practices which misrepresented the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.
Jackson County is represented by a team of attorneys comprised from the firms of Williams Dirks Dameron LLC, Simmons Hanley Conroy LLC, Hardwick Law Firm LLC and Boulware Law LLC.