Everett’s OxyContin lawsuit is a reminder of the terrible toll of opioid addiction.
GIVE Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and the Everett City Council credit for boldness. Inspired by a stellar work of journalism about the irresponsible makers of OxyContin, the city filed a groundbreaking lawsuit to recoup costs of the epidemic.
City of Everett vs. Purdue Pharma is based on a new legal theory that — if it is successful — other cities should consider. The federal lawsuit alleges the corporation was willfully blind to pill mills that pumped the potent narcotic straight into the black market. Purdue denies this.
A Los Angeles Times investigation last year connected the dots between one pill mill near Los Angeles and an enterprising drug dealer who flooded Everett’s streets with 80 milligram OxyContin tabs, at $80 a pop. The dealer actually wore a diamond pendant tracing the “OxyContin trail” from L.A. to the Seattle area in green gems.
The story documented extensive internal Purdue monitoring of pill mills which weren’t forwarded to federal agents, even as the corporation racked up massive profits. That conduct, coupled with the excruciating toll of the opioid epidemic and ensuing heroin epidemic in Snohomish County, inspired Stephanson and company to act.
At the peak of the opioid epidemic, one in five of the heroin overdoses statewide occurred in Snohomish County. In the county jail, 50 or 60 people are detoxing at any given moment. The rate of heroin treatment admissions for teenagers utterly skyrocketed in the past decade.
Purdue’s lawyers are already arguing that Oxycontin’s sales are “multiple layers removed” from heroin overdoses in Everett, so they shouldn’t have to help pay for the mess. Well, if a corporation is deemed a person for campaign spending purposes, then they are also responsible to better their community.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, is still in the early stages, and the unprecedented nature of it makes it an unsure bet. Purdue has already settled class-action lawsuits, including with Washington state, over deceptive marketing practices related to OxyContin, and the corporation has been sued and sued by the families of overdose victims. But Everett is apparently the first city in the country to sue on an allegation that the corporation knew, or should have known, it was feeding the black market.
Purdue asked a federal judge, Ricardo Martinez, to dismiss the case last week, generating headlines around the country, in one ravaged town after another.
Not surprisingly, Everett’s lawyers have heard from at least a half dozen other cities.