Nevada sued over 40 alleged opioid “conspirators” on Monday ― including manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and individuals ― accusing them of creating “an unprecedented public health crisis for their own profit.”
The wide-ranging complaint, announced by Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford (D), expands on a narrower lawsuit filed last year by his predecessor against Purdue Pharma, which produces OxyContin and other opioids. The latest complaint targets manufacturers including Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma, members of the Sackler family who own Purdue, distributors including Walgreens and CVS, and others.
The suit is part of a nationwide effort to hold companies accountable for their alleged responsibility for and involvement in the opioid crisis. Abuse of opioids caused over 47,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2017, six times higher than the number of such deaths in 1999. Nevada argues that defendants engaged in “false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids,” including spreading incorrect information about addiction risk, opioid withdrawal and other forms of pain relief. The complaint also accuses distributors of negligence in their control of the substances.
“Their conspiracy to dupe doctors into prescribing more and more deadly and addictive pills has left countless Nevada families and the state suffering in the wake of their greed,” Ford said in a statement on Monday.
The lawsuit was filed in the District Court of Clark County, Nevada.
A representative for Walgreens declined to comment. CVS, Teva and the Sackler family did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Purdue Pharma “vigorously denies the allegations” in the lawsuit, company representatives said in a statement, calling them “misleading attacks.”
“These sensationalized claims are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system, as plaintiffs are unable to connect the conduct alleged to the harm described,” Purdue representatives said. They cited the dismissal of North Dakota’s suit in May, when a state court there found that the complaint did not account for the actions of other actors like doctors and patients. The company also pointed to its own efforts, including implementing over 60 initiatives, to address the opioid crisis.
Nevada’s suit joins an unfolding nationwide legal attack against opioid manufacturers. California, Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia all sued Purdue Pharma earlier this month. Idaho filed a suit against the company two days later. According to the Associated Press, 49 suits have sued or vowed to sue companies involved in the opioid crisis (Nebraska is the holdout).
The backlash has also spread beyond the courts. In the last few months, multiple museums announced they would stop accepting money from Sackler family due to their involvement in the opioid crisis, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The latest Nevada complaint identifies two main categories of claims — those against manufacturers of prescription opioid drugs whose allegedly false marketing campaigns expanded the drug’s reach and those against retail chains that benefited financially from allegedly insufficient monitoring of the product’s distribution.
The defendants “took advantage of the industry structure, including end-running its internal checks and balances, to their collective advantage,” the complaint contends.
More than 130 people die each day in the U.S. due to opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The spreading harm prompted the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency in 2017.
“This case arises from the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history — the misuse, abuse, diversion, and over-prescription of opioids,” the Nevada complaint says.