Denver Leads The Statewide Local Government Suit Against Opioid Drugmakers

<p>John Daley/CPR News</p>
<p>The memorial wall that is part of Colorado&#039;s recently launched “Lift The Label” opioid addiction awareness campaign. Each pill bottle represents 10 people who have died of an opioid overdose.</p>
Photo: Denver Considers Opioid Suit | Lift Label Memorial Wall - JDaley
The memorial wall that is part of Colorado's recently launched "Lift The Label" opioid addiction awareness campaign. Each pill bottle represents 10 people who have died of an opioid overdose.

Denver and 16 local governments have filed lawsuits U.S. District Court against the makers and distributors of prescription painkillers over the opioid epidemic.

The suits allege drugmakers aggressively marketed opioids and falsely told doctors the risk of addiction to prescription opioids was very low. Those actions, it is argued, devastated communities across the U.S. and Colorado.

"If you looked at these companies, they earned an unbelievable amount of money as a result of these aggressive marketing tactics,” said Kristin Bronson, Denver's city attorney. She accuses the companies of “providing false and misleading information to doctors and patients about the safety of these drugs."

More than 10,000 Colorado residents died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015.

The suit cites state health department figures that opioid-related overdoses tripled in Colorado during that period.

“These companies knew better, and they still allowed the devastation to occur in our communities, and communities across the United States,” said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock in a statement. According to the city’s Office of the Medical Examiner, between 2008 and 2017, 870 residents of Denver lost their lives to opioid-related overdoses. City officials say the opioid crisis has impacted nearly every public entity in Denver.

Bronson said she expects the suit will be combined with 1,500 similar cases filed nationally. "Right now, I would say that more likely [than] not, we will join the other cities and counties in pursuit of either a settlement or ultimate judgment against these defendants."

The companies being sued, like Purdue Pharma, vigorously deny the allegations about their products, which continue to win FDA approval.

Back in February of 2018, Huerfano County became the first municipality in the state to sue opioid manufacturers. Several southern Colorado counties followed suit a few months later.

Local governments joining Denver in the suits include the cities of Aurora, Black Hawk, Commerce City, Northglenn and Westminster, as well as Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Fremont, Jefferson, Larimer, and Teller counties. The town of Hudson, the city and county of Broomfield and the Tri-County Health Department also joined the litigation.

The defendants include some the nation’s biggest pharmaceutical companies and distributors like Purdue Pharma, Endo, Janssen, Teva, Cephalon, Allergan, Actavis, Mallinckrodt and McKesson.

Read More: Opioid Makers Face Wave Of Lawsuits In 2019