Michigan cities and counties sue drug companies over opioid crisis: Bernero says “Enough is enough”

LANSING, MI (WLNS) – The human and financial cost of the opioid crisis is staggering across the country, including here in mid-Michigan.

Now, local governments want to hold drug companies accountable and on Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of nine cities and counties across Michigan. Lansing is one of them.

The others include Macomb County, Detroit, Genesee County, Saginaw County, Grand Traverse County, Delta County, Chippewa County and Escanaba. Wayne and Oakland counties filed a lawsuit in October.

They want the drug companies to reimburse them for the costs associated with responding to the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit alleges prescription drug manufacturers and distributors played a major role in the record levels of opioid abuse and overdoses in our state, which in turn, has led to deaths and extreme costs to local and county governments.

Lansing city officials and attorneys say drug companies aggressively pushed pain medications, in the name of profit, and made fraudulent claims about the safety of those drugs.

Addiction to prescription opioids has led many to turn to cheaper alternatives like heroin and just as much as it’s killing people who use it, it’s costing a lot to help with rehab and treatment.

Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski said in the last three years, more than $700,000 dollars has been spent fighting this issue at the police department alone.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said enough is enough and it’s time to fight back.

“It is out of frustration and disgust that we take this measure,” Mayor Bernero said. “We are not a city that rushes to court, but we also do not shrink from it to protect our citizens.”

This lawsuit certainly has a long road ahead, but officials 6 News talked to today say while it will be far from easy, it will be worth it in the end.

Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, agrees there’s an opioid abuse crisis. It supports efforts to limit the number of tablets during a first prescription.

The state says roughly 1,700 people died from opioid overdoses in Michigan in 2016, up 33 percent over 2015.

“I am angry, I am disgusted and I am appalled at what we’ve seen from the opioid industry and what they have done to our community,” Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said.

 

The lawsuit says several drug makers and pharmacies including Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid, claiming these companies failed to report the suspicious sales of opioids, which is required by state and federal law.

“This is the first wave of this litigation and we expect that there will be many, many more,” Attorney Mark Bernstein said.

He said this lawsuit is asking for two things: to get taxpayers money back from the drug manufacturers and to ask the court to force these companies to change policies.

“There have been almost half a trillion dollars spent in this country dealing with this crisis to date,” he added.

The Lansing Police and Fire Department is spending a significant amount of time and resources responding to this epidemic.

“Last year in 2016, compared to 2017, we’ve already seen a 51 percent increase in overdoses,” Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski said.

Statistics show that 64,000 people across the United States died of overdose deaths in 2016.

“That’s more than are murders and homicides and fatal accidents in 2016,” Chief Yankowski said.

“We have administered naloxone and narcan 40 percent more than we did in the prior calendar year,” Lansing/East Lansing Fire Chief Randy Talifarro said.

Chief Talifarro said this year alone, the fire department has responded to more than 350 overdose related calls and roughly 50 deaths.

“The reality is that it’s a very deliberate crisis people were encouraged to use these drugs and the results have had a tremendous impact,” Chief Talifarro said.