Editor's note: This story has been revised to include a statement submitted after initial publication by the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.
Eleven Illinois communities have sued opioid makers in connection with what they allege is widespread drug abuse and overdoses from so-called opioid prescription painkillers.
And in a bid to ensure their lawsuit doesn’t get shipped off to a Cleveland federal court to be consolidated with the bulk of the opioid litigation pending in U.S. courts, the plaintiffs have also tacked on as defendants three doctors they accused of operating a “pill mill.”
Downstate Pekin joined 10 Chicago suburbs - Melrose Park, Bellwood, Berkeley, Berwyn, Chicago Heights, Hillside, Northlake, Oak Lawn, River Forest and Tinley Park - in filing the complaint in Cook County Circuit Court May 23. Named defendants include drug manufacturers Purdue Pharma, of Stamford, Conn.; Cephalon, of Frazer, Penn.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, of Titusville, N.J.; Insys Therapeutics, of Chandler, Ariz.; Endo Health Solutions, of Malvern, Penn.; Allergan, of Dublin, Ireland; and Mallinckrodt, of Staines-upon-Thames, United Kindgom; as well as several related corporate entities.
Identified as distributor defendants are AmerisourceBergen, of Chesterbrook, Penn., which has a distribution center in suburban Romeoville; Cardinal Health, of Dublin, Ohio, which has warehouses in Aurora and Waukegan; and McKesson, of San Francisco, which also has an Aurora distribution center.
Prescriber defendants include doctors Paul Madison, William McMahon and Joseph Giacchine, who together operated Melrose Park Clinic Ltd., which did business as Riverside Pain Management in Riverside, from January 2013 through March 10, 2017, according to the complaint.
“With Giacchino’s administrative and managerial assistance, McMahon and Madison wrote opioid prescriptions for the clinic’s patients during the entire time of its operation,” the complaint alleged, stating McMahon also operated and wrote prescriptions at the Melrose Park clinic from June 11, 1985, until his medical license was revoked in 2011, “in relation to his over-prescribing of opioids, among other charges.”
The complaint further said the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation in November 2016 permanently revoked McMahon’s medical license and suspended Madison’s, both in connection with opioid prescriptions.
The villages cited nationwide statistics about prescription painkillers, reporting more than 2 million people had a relevant substance abuse disorder in 2010, and also quoted medical journals questioning the efficacy of opioids to treat pain that isn’t connected to cancer.
According to the complaint, the drugmakers “engaged in a years’ long campaign to increase opioid sales by misrepresenting their risks and benefits,” alleging concerns about the safe use of opioids were being discussed in the early 1990s. They said such efforts included deceptive marketing, “carefully trained” sales representatives “and self-recruited physician speakers.”
The communities said the distributor defendants, which “account for approximately 85 percent of all revenues from drug distribution in the United States,” failed to perform basic diligence in order to prevent diversion of drugs from both patently illegal use “as well as misuses that, while not necessarily illegal, do not represent the proper use of prescription opioids.”
The prescriber defendants, according to the complaint, “operated a ‘pill mill,’ illegally prescribing enormous quantities of opioids” to people living in the 11 communities bringing the complaint. The complaint said Giachinno’s “conduct has been so brazen and destructive as to earn him the nickname ‘Dr. Millionpills,’ ” and alleged all three men wrote “opioid prescriptions for virtually all comers, in order to continue reaping the profits they brought in.”
The complaint includes allegations of public nuisance, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, insurance fraud, violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy. In addition to a jury trial, the villages want the court to issue declaratory relief and to bar the defendants from future conduct akin to that which gave rise to the complaint. They also seek punitive damages and restitution, while asking the court to force disgorgement of profits connected to the alleged violations.
In a statement to The Cook County Record, plaintiffs’ attorney Ari Scharg, of the Chicago-based firm of Edelson P.C., said the municipalities intentionally structured their lawsuit to attempt to ensure the case is heard in local courts, rather than amid the host of other opioid lawsuits pending in Ohio.
“This is a historic effort by 11 municipalities throughout Illinois to join together to hold the opioid manufacturers and distributors responsible for the crisis they created,” Scharg said in emailed remarks.
“The lawsuit was filed in Cook County because our clients feel that they will have more control over the litigation in state court. They are pursuing claims under Illinois law and want an Illinois judge to decide them. This is an epidemic that is felt locally, in our families and communities. The case should proceed locally as well.”
Were the lawsuit to have named only the drug companies as defendants, the action could be more easily removed to federal court and consolidated with the other cases. The inclusion of the doctors as defendants serves to anchor the case in Cook County court.
He said many other Illinois communities will be bringing similar legal actions in coming days and weeks.
In response to the litigation, John Parker, senior vice president of the, Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a trade association representing pharamceutical distributors, including those named as defendants in this lawsuit, released the following statement: “The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders.
"Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated.
"Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”
Jonathan Bilyk contributed to this report.