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Covington sues to recover costs of addiction treatment; says companies put profits ahead of safety

The City of Covington filed suit in federal court today, joining local and state governments across the nation in trying to recover the costs of treating addiction caused by the largely uncontrolled deluge of opioids flooding the market.

The lawsuit was filed in Covington in the Eastern District of Kentucky at the direction of the Covington City Commission by Bonar, Bucher & Rankin, a local firm hired by the City to represent its interests in national opioid-related litigation.

It identifies dozens of companies, named and unknown, which develop, market, distribute, and/or sell prescription opioid drugs.

The suit seeks to recover the costs that the City and its departments have incurred because of opioid addiction and addictive behaviors, including health costs for City employees, public safety response to drug-related crime and overdoses, medical treatment for drug-exposed infants, and the costs of providing care for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related incapacitation, incarceration, or homelessness.

The suit also seeks punitive damages, so-called treble damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

“In the United States, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and particularly in the City of Covington, our citizens are now awash in opioids and engulfed in a public health crisis the likes of which have never been seen before,” according the lawsuit, which is more than 400 pages long.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of putting profits over safety and medical outcomes in flooding the market with prescription pain-killers that weren’t as beneficial or as safe as they maintained. The companies in particular deceptively played down the addictive nature of the prescription drugs and manipulated the prescribing practices of doctors in creating a seemingly endless supply of drugs, it maintains.

The practices not only created widespread addiction among patients seeking relief from pain but also created a supply of drugs that were abused and misused, the lawsuit says. The result also helped fuel a resurgence in heroin and like-minded drugs as addicts moved to those drugs.

Lawsuits with similar claims have been filed by numerous government bodies across the nation and Kentucky, including Kenton and Boone counties, Louisville Metro Government, and the office of Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear.

“With this lawsuit Covington is standing up for its citizens and trying to hold these companies financially accountable for helping to create the nationwide opioid crisis and all the suffering it’s directly caused,” Covington City Solicitor Michael Bartlett said. “We also want to be compensated for all the staggering costs and consequences that continue to fall on city government, day by day by day.”

Citing studies and statistics, Covington’s lawsuit points out that:

  • Kentucky ranks seventh among states in opioid-related costs per capita in 2018 and ranked fifth in rates of death due to drug overdoses in 2016.
  • From 2012 to 2016, Kenton County ranked third in Kentucky in number of overdose deaths, with nearly 400.
  • As one example of direct costs to the City, Covington has paid out well over $1 million over the last 10 years through its self-funded medical insurance plan for medical and drug claims related to opioids for its 340 employees and their dependents.
  • Furthermore, in 2017, Covington’s First Responders administered over 1,000 doses of Narcan – a brand name for the drug naloxone, which is used to block the effects of opioids – during responses to medical emergencies. The City’s budget for Narcan increased to $54,000 in 2017, six times higher than previous years.

Bonar, Bucher & Rankin is working with three New York-based law firms who have experience with such legislation. The City’s agreement with the law firm is contingency-based, meaning Covington will not pay attorney fees or case expenses unless the outside attorneys successfully recover a judgment or settlement on the City’s behalf.

None of those lawsuits has made their way through the courts, so it’s too early to tell what settlement Covington could hope to recover, Bartlett said. But it’s likely that the case will be combined with similar lawsuits through a legal mechanism called multi-district litigation.

City of Covington

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