Mayor Hogsett to sue opioid manufacturers, distributors over opioid addiction ‘epidemic’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Last year, 345 Marion County residents died of drug overdoses.

“In the first four months of 2016, 98 of our neighbors in Indianapolis overdosed and died,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett. “This year, 2017, in that same four month period there were 130 overdose deaths.”

In 2016 Indianapolis EMS crews administered 1818 doses of Naloxone to save the lives of overdosing patients.

As of Monday, IEMS had doled out Naloxone 1670 times putting Marion County on another record breaking pace for responding to drug overdoses.

Hogsett said police, paramedics and health and medical care providers need more help and resources in their battle against what he called Indianapolis’ opioid “epidemic.”

“They are exhausted because fundamentally corporate executives were concerned with profits over people,” said the mayor. “The companies contributing to this crisis have failed in their duty to be responsible gatekeepers of highly addictive and potentially lethal drugs.”

Hogsett announced he has engaged the law firm of Cohen & Malad, LLP, to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors to hold them accountable for the flood of painkillers that has swamped Marion County and led to thousands of deaths in the last decade.

“These potential defendants spread the false message that opioids were safe for chronic pain and not addictive. They were at the top of the chain of distribution. They saw unquestionably suspicious orders of opioids but turned a blind eye to their legal duties and obligations to stop and report those orders,” said Irwin Levin, managing partner.  “They’re the people who have certain legal obligations under certain federal laws as well as state law and when they see a suspicious order come through it is their duty and obligation not just to report it but to stop the order.”

Levin said the litigation, set to be filed within the next month, is patterned after lawsuits filed in dozens of other American cities as well as in the state of West Virginia which targeted pharmacy corporations for the millions of painkiller prescriptions written in one of the country’s smallest states.

Last year, 72 opioid prescriptions were written for every 100 Marion County residents which Cohen & Malad called, “way above the national average.”

“We know that if you only take ten pills you have a one in five chance of becoming addicted,” said Levin.

Tom Hanna knows about the battle against drugs from both sides as a retired warrior and grieving father.

As a narcotics detective, Hanna pursued drug dealers and users in northwest Indiana and as a father he buried his son Tommy in May of 2016 after his second overdose in two months.

Hanna has shared his story with state lawmakers and U.S. Senator Todd Young who intends to insert it into testimony on Capitol Hill when the senate takes on America’s opioid addiction problem.

Central to the city’s pending lawsuit is the contention that drug makers intentionally undersold and misled the addictive properties of their painkillers and then did not monitor what may have appeared to be excessive amounts of prescriptions flowing into Marion County.

In 2014, Indiana ranked 15th in the nation for overdose deaths with Marion County leading the state in OD deaths and non-fatal emergency room visits.

“That’s unconscionable. If they knew it was that addictive to keep it out on the streets they should be held accountable for that,” said Hanna. “I’ve known people where they get some sort of injury and then they proscribe them 30-, 60-, 90-days of painkillers when they may not need it and whether they use it for the whole ninety days and become addicted and keep going back for re-up or it gets stolen.”

Hogsett said the anticipated lawsuit is a component to the city’s overall strategy to combat opioid addiction including alternatives to arrest, referrals to services and plans for on-site treatment facilities at the county’s proposed $570 million criminal justice center campus.

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