Chicago Area Officials Demand Accountability For Drugmakers 'Complicit' In Opioid Crisis

Cook County, Illinois, reported a 70 percent increase in opioid-related deaths between 2015 and 2016.

Officials in the one of the nation’s largest counties filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that major prescription drug manufacturers were “complicit” in the opioid crisis and should pay monetary damages for the public health costs.

Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, reported a 70 percent increase in opioid-related deaths between 2015 and 2016, according to the medical examiner’s office. In the city of Chicago, 741 people died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016, similar to the number of people who died from gun violence that year.

“Opioid deaths in Cook County are growing at an alarming rate. This is a public health crisis affecting nearly every community in the County for which we must find a solution,” Toni Preckwinkle, president of the county’s board of commissioners, said in a press release announcing Wednesday’s lawsuit.

“We believe a good start is to aggressively confront one of the root causes of this national epidemic: the pharmaceutical companies and those paid by the pharmaceutical companies who put profits before public health and safety,” Preckwinkle added. 

The officials want the companies to pay monetary damages for costs incurred by the county’s hospitals and jail for treating the opioid crisis. The goal is to “hold accountable those who have been complicit in the creation of this epidemic,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement.

The lawsuit cites the companies’ “coordinated, sophisticated, and highly deceptive marketing” of prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet, which public health officials have named as a major cause of the opioid crisis.

Cook County’s lawsuit is one of many such cases that municipalities and states across the country have brought forward this year. In September, 41 state attorneys general filed subpoenas demanding information from several major drug manufacturers as part of an investigation into what role the companies may have played in worsening the crisis.