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Bowie County has joined a growing list of counties, cities and states suing manufacturers and distributors of opiate-based painkillers in connection with the country's growing epidemic of prescription-drug abuse.

The county filed suit Monday in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas, the same court where a multibillion-dollar settlement against Big Tobacco was overseen in the late 1990s. The suit accuses a bevy of companies of spreading false and deceptive information that led doctors and the public to believe long-term opioid use was safe for most people, in order to reap giant profits.

"This epidemic did not occur by chance."

"We've been realizing the epidemic through our indigent, inmate and mental health populations in particular," said Bowie County Judge James Carlow. "It's getting so much worse."

None of the lawyers representing Bowie County could be reached for comment Wednesday.

"The economic burden caused by opioid abuse in the U.S. is approximately $78.5 billion, including lost productivity and increased social services, health insurance costs, increased criminal justice presence and strain on judicial resources, and substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation," the complaint alleges. "This epidemic did not occur by chance.

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"Defendants manufacture, market, distribute, and sell prescription opioids, including brand name drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Opana, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone, Avinza, and generics like oxymorphone and hydrocodone, which are powerful narcotic painkillers. Other defendants manufacture, market, distribute, and sell prescription opioids, including brand-name drugs like Fentanyl, Fentora, Duragesic, Ultram, and Ultracet."

Bowie County is one of many governmental entitities in at least a half-dozen states to file suit. Cases filed in or transferred to a federal jurisdiction may eventually be consolidated into a multi-district litigation to ensure consistency in rulings among the cases and provide judicial economy.

Pharmaceutical Company Defendants

The following is a list of defendants named in Bowie County's suit filed Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, against companies that manufacture and distribute opioids.

Purdue Pharma L.P.
Purdue Pharma Inc.
The Purdue Frederick Co.
Cephalon Inc.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
Johnson & Johnson
Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc.
Endo Health Solutions Inc.
Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Abbott Laboratories
Knoll Pharmaceutical Co.
Allergan PLC
Allergan Finance LLC
Watson Laboratories Inc.
Actavis LLC
Actavis Pharma Inc.
Insys Therapeutics Inc.
Pfizer Inc.
McKesson Corp.
Cardinal Health Inc.
Amerisourcebergen Corp.
Does 1-100, inclusive

The Doe defendants represent companies who may have engaged in the conduct alleged in Bowie County's complaint, but have not yet been identified.

Bowie County's complaint alleges the pharmaceutical defendants are guilty of using a variety of tricks to induce doctors to prescribe opioids and to convince health insurance companies to cover their costs. The deception alleged includes using supposedly third-party doctors and "front groups" to tout the benefits of the drugs when they were in fact receiving financial and other benefits to mislead their colleagues. According to the complaint, the companies collectively tripled their spending on opioid marketing between 2000 and 2011 from $91 million to $288 million.

"The escalating number of opioid prescriptions written by doctors who were deceived by defendants' deceptive marketing scheme is the cause of a correspondingly dramatic increase in opioid addiction, overdose and death throughout the U.S. and Bowie County," the complaint states. "The costs and consequences of opioid addiction are staggering. For example, in 2007, the cost of health care due to opioid abuse, dependence and misuse was estimated at $25 billion, the cost of criminal justice was estimated at $5.1 billion, and the cost of lost workplace productivity was estimated at $25.6 billion."

The suit alleges Big Pharma was well aware of the risks via warnings from the Food and Drug Administration, scientific studies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2016 CDC report found that opioid prescriptions have quadrupled since 1999.

"There was also an increase in Bowie County's child protection agencies in the number of children in foster care driven by parental drug addiction," the complaint alleges.

The complaint accuses all the defendants of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO, by engaging in concert in a sophisticated scheme to sell and distribute the dangerous drugs with an eye on profits and a complete disregard for patient health and the rippling, negative effects widespread addiction has on families and communities.

The complaint alleges the defendants are guilty of creating a public nuisance in Bowie County and of committing fraudulent acts to entice patients to request opioids and to induce doctors to prescribe them. Negligence in marketing by downplaying the risks of opioids is alleged as well.

The suit alleges gross negligence is exemplified by the defendants' use of a marketing scheme to maximize profits at the expense of public health and that the companies should be ordered to pay punitive and exemplary damages meant to punish and deter similar future conduct. The suit accuses the defendants who distribute opioids of violating the Texas Controlled Substances Act.

The suit was filed on Bowie County's behalf by the Texarkana-based Dunn, Nutter & Morgan firm; the Tyler, Texas-based Martin Walker firm; and the Dallas-based Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett firm. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III.

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