BISMARCK — Nineteen cities and counties across North Dakota have brought lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and a number of other prescription drug companies for their alleged role in the nation-wide opioid addiction and overdose crisis.
Filed Friday, June 14, in U.S. District Court in North Dakota, the municipalities seek unspecified damages for the role they say the companies played in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called a public health epidemic.
Communities across North Dakota brought the new round of lawsuits after a 2018 suit Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem brought against Purdue Pharma was dismissed in May by a judge in Burleigh County District Court. Stenehjem said the state would appeal the decision.
The local governments, including the city of Bismarck, Devils Lake and Grand Forks County, accuse Purdue Pharma, generic drug makers and drug distributors of “unfairly, deceptively and fraudulently marketing, promoting and distributing opioids,” leading to a wave of addiction and death in North Dakota communities and across the U.S.
The 19 municipalities further allege that they bear a “substantial amount of the costs associated with opioid use and opioid use disorder,” because of the opioid crisis, though they do not specify an exact amount.
It’s yet another wave of litigation against companies that make and sell prescription painkillers, which have come under public scrutiny and legal pressure in recent years after deaths and overdoses related to the drugs have soared across the country.
In 2014, almost 2 million Americans were addicted to prescription opioids, and between 1999 and 2015, more than 183,000 died from overdoses related to the drugs, according to the recently-filed lawsuits.
A similar lawsuit filed by Cass County and the city of Grand Forks in March states that the number of deaths related to opioid overdoses more than tripled in North Dakota from 2013 to 2015 and that the use of heroin increased by 400 percent.
Now, rural areas and small cities across North Dakota join countless other state and local governments across the country in suing pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in the opioid addiction crisis, which they say was brought about by drug makers’ business practices and a lack of oversight on the part of distributors and sellers of painkillers.
Distributors and retail pharmacies are obligated by federal and state laws to flag and refuse to ship suspicious orders of controlled substances, including opioids, though the newly filed lawsuits make no specific mention of cases where distributors failed to screen shipments in North Dakota.
In March, Cass County and the City of Grand Forks brought their own lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and a number of other companies involved in the manufacture, sale and distribution of prescription opioids. Brought as a potential tag-along action, the lawsuit was transferred from North Dakota federal court to join nationwide litigation in the Northern District of Ohio.
The North Dakota jurisdictions that filed lawsuits include the cities of Bismarck and Devils Lake, as well as Burleigh, Dunn, McLean, McKenzie, Williams, Mountrail, Mercer, Walsh, Towner, Barnes, Ramsey, Sargent, Benson, Richland, Ransom, Rolette and Grand Forks counties.