Early this year, the St. Louis-area law firm Carey Danis & Lowe began a mass tort lawsuit against big pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and prescription benefit managers for their roles in perpetuating the opioid crisis across Missouri and the nation.
The firm has enlisted 10 Missouri counties and the city of Joplin as plaintiffs, and on Monday attorney John Garvey pitched the Independence City Council on joining the suit, which intends to recover municipal costs of dealing with opioids.
The suit, filed in St. Louis County, accuses 49 defendants of a combination of public nuisance, negligence, fraud and negligent misrepresentation – not only for the marketing traps to pedal opioids but for turning a blind eye to suspiciously large orders and ultimately flooding the market, which sent large numbers of opioids into the streets and creating an illegal market.
“Cities like yours, counties that we represent, have paid a cost for all this,” Garvey said. “Families and individuals are paying with their life, treatment and care. It is you that is paying law enforcement, jail space, health costs Narcan costs (the drug carried by many first responders used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose), health treatment in jails, education and overall treatment.”
With counties, the coroner's office and family protective services can also be saddled with costs due to opioids. Garvey's firm has the counties of Cape Girardeau, Christian, Crawford, Greene, Iron, Jasper, Jefferson, Stone, Taney and Washington as plaintiffs. Jackson County filed its own large suit earlier this summer.
“You have spent this money in the last 10 years, and we have a nuisance theory that you're going to be paying this for the next five to 10 years,” Garvey said. “This has created a whole new generation of addicts that you're going to be responsible for.”
City Attorney Dayla Bishop Swartz said most cities interested in such a lawsuit have put out an RFP (request for proposal) and then compared and contrasted offers.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley filed a state lawsuit earlier this year as well, targeting three big manufacturers, but Swartz said that suit raises the question of what might be recoverable for the city.
Garvey said his firm has been involved in some RFPs. With the opioid suit, his firm is fronting the $3-5 million they anticipate the suit will cost. It is working on a 25 percent contingency fee for any verdict judgement, and the city would not pay costs.
City Manager Zach Walker said he would work with the city's legal to bring a formal recommendation to the council soon.
“We'll move forward in the most responsible way possible,” he said.
Defendants in the Carey Danis & Lowe suit include Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Express Scripts, Walgreens and CVS. Garvey said they are not going after providers (doctors), as they believe the fault lies more with who sold them the drugs with false claims.
“It's our contention that they were misled; they were lied to,” he said. “The public was misled.”