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Tue, June 25

Prescott sues pharmaceutical companies for damages created by opioid crisis
Lawsuit: Prescott ‘has paid dearly’

Members of the Prescott City Council listen to a report about the opioid crisis during a February meeting, prior to voting to pursue a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuit is asking for damages for the harms the community has suffered from the opioid epidemic. (Cindy Barks/Courier, file)

Members of the Prescott City Council listen to a report about the opioid crisis during a February meeting, prior to voting to pursue a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuit is asking for damages for the harms the community has suffered from the opioid epidemic. (Cindy Barks/Courier, file)

A claim of “corporate greed” is at the heart of a lawsuit that the City of Prescott filed this week against a number of pharmaceutical and distributor companies.

The filing comes about two months after the Prescott City Council agreed to pursue damages from “big pharma” for the harm the ongoing opioid crisis has had on the community.

In a unanimous vote on Feb. 12, the council authorized pursing a civil lawsuit “against those responsible for the wrongful manufacture and distribution of prescription opiates …” and retained a team of outside attorneys to work with the Prescott City Attorney’s office to file the suit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Yavapai County Superior Court, on Tuesday, April 23, lists more than a dozen defendants, including Allergan PLC, Actavis PLC, and the Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.

“This case is about corporate greed,” the lawsuit states. “Simply put, each of the defendants put its desire for profits above the health and well-being of Prescott’s residents. Prescott and its citizens have paid dearly as a result.”

SCHEME ‘WELL-SUITED’ TO PRESCOTT

The suit goes on to add that Prescott’s population was especially vulnerable to the companies’ “sophisticated, manipulative scheme” that was designed to increase the number of opioid prescriptions.

“The defendants’ scheme was particularly well-suited to Prescott, because Prescott is home to a multitude of economically and medically vulnerable populations that defendants knew were uniquely predisposed to opioid addiction, including the elderly and veterans,” states the lawsuit.

The suit also refers to the damage Prescott’s reputation has suffered in recent years as a “destination city for sober living homes and addiction rehabilitation treatment centers — facilities that would never have existed anywhere, much less in Prescott, were it not for the opioid epidemic.”

With a population of about 42,000 people, the lawsuit notes, Prescott was home to at least 170 sober living homes in 2016.

While the community has since taken steps to deal with the sober living home problem — reportedly bringing the total homes down to about 30 — the lawsuit maintains that the city had to dedicate substantial tax dollars “to restore its once sterling reputation as one of the most desirable communities in all of Arizona.”

DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACTED

The city released a statement about the lawsuit on Wednesday, April 24, noting that the legal team was retained at no expense to the city or its taxpayers. The litigation team is being led by Arizona firm Fennemore Craig, and includes the Theodora Oringher PC law firm.

“As every Prescott resident knows, our community has been uniquely and disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis plaguing our country today,” states the city news release. “By filing this lawsuit, the mayor and City Council are making it clear that our community will not simply acquiesce in the harms the people of Prescott have already suffered, and will continue to suffer …”

City Attorney Jon Paladini said Wednesday that because the lawsuit was filed in Yavapai County Superior Court, a trial, if one occurs, would take place in Prescott.

Paladini noted, however, that the lawsuit is complex, with many defendants, and likely would take more than a year to get to trial.

The next procedural step is a response filed by the defendants, Paladini said, after which the lengthy discovery phase would begin.

Paladini described the litigation as “basically a suit for money damages.”

The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount of damages, but refers to an amount to be proven at trial. “That would be determined by a jury,” Paladini said of the damage amount.

The lawsuit refers to a number of ways the community has been harmed by the opioid crisis, including a death toll that is “unconscionable,” as well as the loss of tax dollars from people who have died or have become addicted to opioids and are no longer able to work.

It adds that the city has had to divert funds from the services it provides, such as law enforcement, to deal with the opioid crises.

“The overburdened service areas require a greater share of Prescott’s scarce tax dollars, while at the same time, the crisis itself decreases the tax dollars Prescott can generate,” the suit adds.

The entire filing is available online at: http://bit.ly/2IEDvPP.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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