19 Iowa Counties Join Multidistrict Opioid Litigation Against Pharmaceutical Companies

Nineteen Iowa counties are joining a multidistrict litigation against pharmaceutical entities that allegedly have played a role in the national opioid crisis, per a complaint filed Wednesday in the Southern District of Iowa.

The counties — Appanoose, Cerro Gordo, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Emmet, Fremont, Hancock, Henry, Ida, Jones County, Keokuk, Madison, Muscatine, Osceola, Pocahontas, Poweshiek, Webster County, Winnebago, and Wright — lodged a host of claims in their 411-page complaint against numerous pharmaceutical manufacturers, marketers, and distributors, all named in the filing.

Underpinning the plaintiffs’ causes of action of common law absolute public nuisance, public nuisance, fraud, negligence, unjust enrichment, civil conspiracy, and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and of Iowa’s private right of action under the Consumer Fraud Act, was the allegation that the defendants have been complicit in perpetuating “the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history—the misuse, abuse, and over-prescription of opioids,” according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs argued that the defendants conspired to orchestrate every aspect of opioid propagation — from marketing to the supply chain to distribution — in such a way that would increase demand for opioids and allow “suspicious orders” to be approved and prescriptions to be filled. They purportedly did this through “relentlessly and methodically, but untruthfully,” representing to physicians and consumers that the risk of becoming addicted to opioids was low, while inflating the benefits of opioid use and rendering less important the long-term risk, the complaint said.

The scheme has been successful, the plaintiffs contended, with the number of prescription opioids sold in the United States almost quadrupling since 1999 — and drug companies profiting, peaking in 2012 with $8 billion in revenue. Concurrent with sales and profits, the number of deaths involving prescription opioids also rose, with the rate of deaths involving prescription opioids five times higher in 2017 than in 1999, according to the complaint.

Iowa has felt the firsthand effects of this alleged scheme, the plaintiffs argued. According to the complaint, deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled in the past 20 years in the state, with 646 deaths between 2009 and 2014.

According to the plaintiffs, the defendants willfully and deliberately acted to continue proliferating opioids across the country in order to enrich themselves to the “harm and risk of harm to public health and safety” as well as “large-scale economic loss to communities” in Iowa and the U.S. as a whole.

The relief requested by the plaintiffs includes abatement of the alleged nuisance, monetary and punitive damages, injunctive relief, and disgorgement of the alleged unjust enrichment.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Carney & Appleby Law Firm.