‘It’s about time’: Butler County officials react to a major drug company decision and hope more is done

Butler County officials say a recent announcement that Purdue Pharma will stop pushing OxyContin on prescribing doctors “is about time” but the impact on the county’s $5 million lawsuit against 20 drug companies is unknown.

The Butler County commissioners, at the urging of Prosecutor Mike Gmoser, filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and 19 other drug and drug distribution companies in November. Purdue announced its sales staff will no longer push its opiate products to prescribing physicians.

“Last week Purdue had a significant sales force reduction of more than 50 percent. We will have approximately 200 sales reps remaining focusing on Symproic and other potential non-opioid products,” Purdue spokesman Rob Josephson told this news organization.

RELATED: Butler County commissioners sue major drug companies for $5 million

Gmoser said “it’s about time,” but he isn’t certain what impact this announcement might have on the commissioners’ lawsuit.

“Its effect on a lawsuit is only going to be told by the settlements that will probably be reached or verdicts that will be made,” he said. “I’m not going to look into my crystal ball to see how that’s going to play out in a jury room, or a courtroom or in the board room. Those are the three areas that have yet to be told.”

The county’s lawsuit alleges the companies have violated racketeering laws by fueling the epidemic. Misuse of opiate painkillers leads to addiction in some people and has driven people to heroin when their pill supply dries up, the lawsuit says. The commissioners have said they hope an eventual settlement might bring about real solutions, like in tobacco litigation.

In the mid-1990s, the states’ attorneys general sued the four big tobacco companies, claiming their products caused significant cost to public health systems, among other allegations. A settlement was reached in 1998 that included a $205 billion payout over 25 years to 46 states. Four states settled individually.

Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon previously said that litigation was very successful and he believes the new wave of opioid litigation can have a similar impact. He said education and prevention are keys to beating the opioid epidemic.

“The county can’t do this financially on its own,” Dixon said. “This is the kind of money it’s going to take to have an impact, to have a real plan. I think the drug companies are responsible somewhat for that. I think the distributors are too, the more pills they sell the more money they make. It will be the beginning of a global solution.”

MORE: Butler County $3.6 million opiate plan gets cash infusion

The lawsuit was filed in conjunction with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s lawsuit against drug companies in Ross Common Pleas Court last May.

DeWine’s lawsuit is focused on the manufacturers, while Butler County’s lawsuit — manufacturers were sued too — centers on the distributors who were federally mandated to monitor suspicious spikes in orders for the dangerous drugs, according to Gmoser.

DeWine was blunt in his statements about Purdue’s announcement.

“If they are truly serious about this, they could lead the way in cleaning up the mess they created and pay their fair share to fund desperately needed treatment, prevention education, naloxone, and expansion of the foster care system,” he said.

“Now is the time to step up to the plate, do what’s right, and take responsibility for their actions once and for all.”

Scott Rasmus, executive director of the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, said it is good Purdue has taken handling opiate products out of the hands of the sales people and given responsibility to medical staff.

“This is a really good thing,” Rasmus said. “It’s just a shame this is only one pharmaceutical company and that it’s happening now and not months and years before.”

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