Massachusetts Town Alleges Creators, Distributors, and Advertisers of Opioids Misled Public

On Thursday, in the District of Massachusetts, the town of Millis, Mass. sued a group of pharmaceutical creators, distributors, and advertisers on the grounds that the defendants conspired, in violation of racketeering and nuisance laws, to downplay the addictiveness potential of opioids in order to increase sales via an uptick in prescriptions. 

The town asserted that the defendants used marketing, fake research, and even educational webinars to give the town “the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history–the misuse, abuse, diversion, and over-prescription of opioids.”

While the 307-page complaint laid out numerous specifics with regards to legal faults, the general unlawful activity was a conspiracy to create nationwide marketing, via websites, print literature and even continuing education webinars for medical professionals, to downplay and even outright deny the addictive potential of opioids. As a result in large part of the defendants’ endeavor, the plaintiffs averred that drug abuse is now the leading cause of death for people under 50, with opioid overdoses killing 45,000 people in 2017. In the plaintiff’s town borders, the party alleged “an excessive drug overdose rate related to an excessive volume of prescription opiates proximately caused by the wrongful conduct of the (d)efendants” led to “drug poisoning and opioid related deaths….” among town residents. 

The plaintiff laid out grounds for two major ways the defendants’ actions were unlawful: engaging in illegal racketeering via marketing misrepresentations and by creating a public nuisance. On the racketeering count, the town alleged that the defendants created a scheme that covered opioid creators, distributors, pharmacy chains, and advertisers to downplay the overwhelming research showing opioids are addictive in order to massively increase opioid prescriptions. This scheme, purported the plaintiff, violated federal racketeering laws that make it illegal to form an enterprise to promote sales using concealment of material facts or representations that are false, or at minimum negligent. As the defendants willingly created or participated in elaborate marketing campaigns to promote the idea that “opioids are not generally addictive” which resulted in increased profits from opioids,  the defendants all violated the federal laws prohibiting racketeering, the town argued.

Moving to the public nuisance count, the plaintiff alleged the defendants’ deceptive marketing conspiracy concerning the addictive qualities of opioids violated the right to public health. The pleading proffered that the defendants’ actions resulted in an increase in opioid prescriptions leading to an increase in drug abuse. As the residents of the plaintiff’s town are now addicted to a harmful drug, but without local drug treatment options, the residents remain untreated and the defendants remain liable for the creation of a continuing public nuisance via the creation of a public health crisis in Millis, the complaint alleged.

The town seeks, among other prayers for relief, an injunction mandating the discontinuation of all the defendants’ actions in furtherance of the enterprise using deceptive marketing to increase opioid use, compensatory damages to remedy all harms done by opioids unlawfully disseminated to the town’s residents (and where applicable, the nation at-large), and punitive damages given that the defendants knew of the heightened harm via addiction to opioids, yet “chose profit over prudence and the safety of the town.”

The plaintiff is represented by Rodman, Rodman, & Sandman