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Springfield, Greene County to file suit against opioid companies

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The city of Springfield and Greene County jointly announced plans Wednesday to sue unnamed opioid manufacturers and distributors, joining hundreds of local governments nationwide.

Both entities outlined plans to file separate lawsuits against the companies, naming prescription drug brands OxyContin and Vicodin as part of an epidemic of opioid oversupply, abuse and misuse, according to an announcement made late-Wednesday.

OxyContin is produced by Purdue Pharma LP, and Vicodin is a product of AbbVie Inc.

City information specialists Cora Scott and Melissa Haase could not be reached by deadline to confirm which manufacturers and distributors are being sued and whether the city’s lawsuit was filed Wednesday, as planned.

County officials also were unaware of which companies were included and whether the county’s lawsuit was filed. County Commissioner Harold Bengsch said St. Louis’ Carey Danis & Lowe was handling the county’s suit, specifically firm partner John Garvey.

Garvey also could not be reached by deadline for comment.

“They have not told us the date that they will file, but obviously, there will be a filing,” Bengsch said, adding the lawsuits would become part of a multidistrict litigation effort of some 300 cities and 500 counties nationwide.

“We’re in a wait-and-see mode right now,” Bengsch said. “These things take time, whenever they go for these types of class action.”

The news release linked opioids – such as heroin, morphine and fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid, and prescription painkillers – to at least two-thirds of roughly 64,000 Americans who died in 2016 from drug overdoses.

“That means that more Americans die from drug overdoses than from car crashes, gun homicides and AIDS-related deaths combined,” the release read.

The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers are pinned as a gateway to illicit heroin use.

The city and county’s lawsuits will be supported by two legal arguments, according to the release: opioid manufacturers downplayed the addictive nature of their products through a “misleading marketing push,” and opioid distributors oversupplied the drugs, despite knowledge of the products being misused.

“This claim is backed by data that shows that in some counties and states, there were more prescribed bottles of painkillers than there were people – some believe to be a sign that something was going very wrong,” the release noted.

Seven residents died of drug overdoses in Springfield during the first half of 2017, when the Springfield Police Department seized roughly 1,460 pounds of heroin, according to the release.

“It is not unusual for local emergency responders to react to several [overdoses] each day,” the release said.

In 2012, opioid overdose death rates were locally at 17.9 fatal overdoses per 100,000 people, according to the release. 

“These local rates climbed to 31.6 per 100,000 in 2015,” the release noted. “The overdose rate for Springfield citizens under the age of 50 years is almost twice the national average.”

During the first nine months of 2017, according to the release, 22 Greene County residents died specifically from prescription opioid overdoses, in addition to 23 deaths from fentanyl and heroin overdoses.

“It is affecting almost every single man, woman and child within our community in some way,” Springfield City Manager Greg Burris said in the release.

Burris also noted joint efforts with the county to battle the epidemic, such as the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

“But a challenge of this scale demands a multilayered response,” he said.

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