Butler County wants 20 major drug companies and distributors to pay $5 million for the role commissioners say they played in the opioid epidemic.
The lawsuit, filed last week in United States District Court in Columbus, alleges the companies have violated racketeering laws by fueling the epidemic.
“Distributor defendants created conditions that allowed massive amounts of controlled substances to be diverted from legitimate channels of distribution into the illicit market and otherwise flow freely from manufacturers to end user abusers in quantities that fueled the opioid epidemic in the county and elsewhere,” the 146-page lawsuit reads.
“Acting in violation of their aforesaid common law and statutory duties, defendants created an environment in which such drug diversion flourished, largely by its over-supply to unscrupulous pharmacies,” the lawsuit states.
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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 centers on the distributors who were federally mandated to monitor suspicious spikes in orders for the dangerous drugs, according to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.
“It’s in conjunction with (DeWine’s lawsuit) in the sense we are going up a tree and there’s two branches on it,” Gmoser said. “The trunk leads to both. To one extent there is the distribution angle of it where we are, and there is the manufacturing aspect of it where DeWine’s at.”
Butler County’s lawsuit also suggests drug manufacturers duped doctors into thinking they were helping patients by prescribing the drugs, when they were really assisting them in becoming addicts.
“Manufacturer defendants’ marketing efforts were ubiquitous and highly persuasive,” the lawsuit states. “Their deceptive messages tainted virtually every source doctors could rely on for information and prevented them from making informed treatment decisions. Manufacturer defendants also were able to harness and hijack what doctors wanted to believe — namely, that opioids represented a means of relieving their patients’ suffering and of practicing medicine more compassionately.”
As of Thursday, there had been 184 drug overdose deaths in Butler County, according Martin Schneider, administrator of the coroner’s office, but there are still several cases awaiting toxicology results. Through September, there have been 177 overdose deaths in Butler County, up from 147 during the same time period last year.
The opioid epidemic is so pervasive here, Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board Executive Director Scott Rasmus has said they intend to put a 0.7-mill combined levy request on the ballot in May, to support both mental health and addiction services.
The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services board approved a $3.6 million plan a year-and-a-half ago to tackle the opioid problem. Rasmus said unfortunately attempts to get outside funding haven’t been successful. They have reallocated only $600,000 in state funding to the plan.
Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said commissioners filed the lawsuit because they want the drug companies to help pay for fixing the problem.
“It is wrecking both the lives of the individuals (addicted), the people who interact with, love and care about those individuals, but it is also placing a tremendous financial burden as well as a sociological burden on our communities,” Young said. “The hope and expectation is all those involved will become a part of the solution to the problem rather than simply benefiting from it.”
DeWine told the five drug companies he sued on Oct. 30 that he wanted serious settlement offers within 30 days. His spokesman Dan Tierney said they have received some responses, but they are not yet revealing what is in those correspondences.