In the face of the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history, known as the opioid crisis, the County of Humboldt this week filed a federal lawsuit against the largest manufacturers and primary distributors of prescription opioids in the United States.
The reckless promotion and distribution of potent opioids for chronic pain, while deliberately downplaying the significant risks of addiction and overdose, has led to unprecedented levels of opioid-related overdoses in Humboldt County, forever changing the lives of so many local families.
Opioid-related overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United State, surpassing even fatal car accidents. Since 2000, more than 300,000 people have died from opioid overdoses. Humboldt County has the second-highest fatal overdose rate in California, a rate that is five times the national average.
Prescription opioids are a class of powerful pain relievers, including oxycodone and hydrocodone. The chemical make-up of these prescription drugs is nearly identical to heroin.
Since 1995 when OxyContin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and aggressively marketed to healthcare professionals, the sales of opioids has skyrocketed and pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these drugs have recorded massive profits. In Humboldt County opioid prescriptions outnumber people. In 2016 there were 156,444 opioid prescriptions, or more than 114 prescriptions per 100 residents.
As is true around the country, the rise in prescription opioids in Humboldt was followed closely by a dramatic rise in heroin use. Once patients can no longer obtain prescription opioids, many turn to heroin.
In years past, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office captured one or two pounds of heroin in a big year. In 2017 alone, the Sheriff’s Office confiscated 10 pounds and is well on pace to surpass that amount in 2018.
The complaint alleges that the defendants violated California’s Unfair Competition Law and the federal RICO statute, and that their conduct constitutes public nuisance, negligence, gross negligence, and unjust enrichment under California law.
Humboldt County retained Keller Rohrback as outside counsel on a contingency-fee basis. The law firm has already filed numerous opioid cases on behalf of public agencies in Washington, Idaho and Arizona. In addition, other municipalities around the country have filed more than 1,000 similar lawsuits seeking to hold manufacturers and distributors liable for the harms they have inflicted on communities.