Salt Lake County has assembled a group of high-profile attorney’s to take on 19 pharmaceutical companies over their role in the opioid crisis.
The county’s legal team includes attorneys who led lawsuits against Big Tobacco and British Petroleum after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods is also on the team.
“Purdue Pharmacy in particular, to name names along with their counterparts went out and persuaded doctors around the United States to persuade the public that these pain pills were not addictive, they were not a big problem and that they were effective for long-term pain. Those were lies,” Woods said.
The complaint filed in Utah’s 3rd District Court also names Johnson and Johnson and Salt Lake City Doctor Lynn Webster among the defendants.
Sheriff Rosie Rivera says nurses at the Salt Lake County Jail spend several hours a day in a quarantine unit, dealing with inmates who are withdrawing from opioids. And it costs the county more than $100,000 a year.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says the county’s disproportionally effected by opioid addiction.
“It is profound, both in terms of the cost in a financial sense, but then you move away from it to the idea of loss in human life and the destruction of emotion and suffering that it’s caused in people’s lives,” Gill said. “It’s incredible.
Officials say at least one Utahn fatally overdoses every day. And nearly half of those deaths occur in Salt Lake County.
In a statement, a Purdue Pharma spokesperson said the company is troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis and is dedicated to being part of the solution.
"As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge," the spokesperson said. "Although our products account for less than 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone."
This story has been updated.