Scott County suing pharmaceutical drug companies for damages from addiction and HIV epidemic
After years of working to recover from a drug epidemic that ravaged the community, Scott County, Indiana, is suing two drug companies that manufacture opioids.
SCOTTSBURG, Ind. (WDRB) – After years of working to recover from a drug epidemic that ravaged the community, Scott County, Indiana, is suing two drug companies that manufacture opioids.
Filed in Scott County Superior Court on Monday, the lawsuit alleges that defendants Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Endo Pharmaceuticals “began a marketing campaign to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain…”
“The drug companies influenced the public and influenced the doctors that opioids were safe and they're not,” said Bob Houston, the attorney for Scott County.
Scott County has battled an addiction and drug epidemic for years. It came to head in 2015 when Austin, Indiana, saw a spike in HIV cases. In a normal year, Austin saw no more than three cases per year, according to the health department. In 2015, it saw 180 cases, prompting then-Gov. Mike Pence to declare a state of emergency for the entire state.
“Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem,” Pence said at the time.
Since then, Scott County has worked to get out of the economic and societal hole that was dug with needle exchanges and addiction counseling services.
“We were compared to the worst places in the world, meaning sub-Sahara Africa,” Houston said. “It's affected our children and families beyond belief here.”
Scott County joins a host of other municipalities that have sued large pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic throughout the country. In 2015, Purdue Pharmaceuticals agreed to a $24 million settlement with the commonwealth of Kentucky.
Many governments have joined together in lawsuits to take on the large drug companies. However, Houston said it was best for Scott County to file individually.
“Lots of places don’t have the direct damages that we have here,” he said. “We don't want to be compared to Louisville or Indianapolis as examples because their economic situation is far different than ours.”
The lawsuit alleges that Purdue and Endo both “continue to misrepresent the risks and benefits of long-term opioid use in Indiana and continues to fail to correct its part representations.”
In a statement in regards to a similar lawsuit filed in Ohio, a spokesman for Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures OxyContin, said it is "committed to working collaboratively to find solutions."
A spokesperson for Endo could not immediately be reached for comment.
The lawsuit states the pharmaceutical companies took “advantage of the lucrative market for chronic pain patients … and developed or was the beneficiary of a well-funded marketing scheme based on deception.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the sale of prescribed opioids has quadrupled in the past 15 years. Surveys conducted by the National Institute for Drug Abuse indicate that of people entering treatment for heroin addiction, 75 percent of those say their first opioid was a prescription drug.
Scott County is suing for unspecified monetary damages incurred during the crisis as well as additional expenses for the “criminal justice system, the health system, all of those things in the county.”
Uniquely, Scott County has also named 10 individuals convicted of dealing a controlled substance in Scott County in the lawsuit.
“I think that you basically have to be accountable for your actions, and those people need to be accountable for their actions as much as the people who have promoted it: the drug companies,” Houston said.
When asked whether Scott Commissioners had any hesitancy to file suit against large pharmaceutical companies, Houston responded, "No. I know (commissioners) feel like it's their responsibility to protect the citizens, and they understand the risk, and they understand the complexity, but they're just ready to take that step."
Claims made in a lawsuit present only one side of the case.
Reporter Travis Ragsdale can be reached at 502-797-7116 or via email TRagsdale@wdrb.com
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