Saturday, March 24, 2018

Rural health clinics claim opioid makers and distributors 'created and engineered' epidemic, seek class action

"Two rural Kentucky health clinics are trying to open a new front in the legal battle against drug companies that allegedly used improper tactics to fan an epidemic of addiction to powerful painkillers called opioids," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Two rural health clinics have filed a federal lawsuit against several drug companies, claiming the firms “created and engineered” the opioid epidemic, causing the clinics to incur past and future costs for treating addicts which they won't otherwise be compensat

The complaint by Family Practice Clinic of Booneville Inc., and Family Health Care Clinic PSC of Richmond claims that the firms “created and engineered” the epidemic, and “aggressively advertised to and persuaded practitioners to prescribe highly addictive, dangerous opioids, and turned patients into drug addicts or dependents for their own corporate profit.” The defendants are more than 20 defendant pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, some of which "are subsidiaries of others in the complaint," Estep reports.

"There are hundreds of such cases pending around the country," but this is the first by rural health clinics, David J. Guarnieri of Lexington, one of the attorneys who filed it, told Estep. The suit seeks unspecified damages and asks that it be made a class action on behalf of more than 4,100 rural health clinics, including 745 in Appalachian areas of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee.

"The lawsuit argues that drug makers used false and misleading claims to push their products, such as  down-playing the risk of addiction; claiming that it is easy to manage opioid dependence and withdrawal; and denying risks from using higher doses of the drugs," Estep reports. "It also alleges the companies targeted vulnerable patient populations, including people served by rural health clinics in Appalachia. There is a high prevalence of “societal risk factors which contribute to an increased and widespread abuse of opioids” in the region, the lawsuit says, including lower income; lower educational attainment; depression; a higher portion of jobs prone to injuries; and poor health status."

The suit claims distributors of the drugs failed "to stop suspiciously large shipments of painkillers and by not reporting red flags about possible diversion of prescription pills to the government as required," Estep reports. It says addiction to opioids "drives up costs for rural health clinics, not just for providing treatment but for added needs such as regulatory compliance and security; lost employee productivity; and having to kick out patients for abusing or diverting prescribed drugs."

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