Costa Mesa is taking distributors and manufacturers of opioid pain medication to court in a bid to recoup tax dollars it alleges were spent as a result of the addiction epidemic that has afflicted communities coast to coast.
In a lawsuit filed March 29, the city argues that the businesses “intentionally flooded the market with opioids and pocketed billions of dollars in the process” while making “false statements designed to persuade both doctors and patients that prescription opioids posed a low risk of addiction.”
Such actions, the city alleges, “have not only caused significant costs but have also created a palpable climate of fear, distress, dysfunction and chaos among Costa Mesa residents where opioid diversion, abuse and addiction are prevalent and where diverted opioids tend to be used frequently.”
Opioids include powerful legal prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone.
The lawsuit names about a dozen distributors and manufacturers as defendants, including Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and certain members of the Sackler family that controls the company.
“This epidemic has personally touched the lives of many members of our community,” Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement Thursday. “It’s time that we take action and put a halt to the lives being destroyed and the economic drain opioid addiction is placing on our community.”
Purdue Pharma spokesman Bob Josephson wrote in an emailed statement Thursday afternoon that the company “and the individual former directors of the company vigorously deny the allegations in the complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations.”
“The complaint is part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” Josephson wrote. He added that he believes the complaint disregards or fails to note facts about Purdue’s prescription medications and pertinent federal regulations.
“Such serious allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but we believe the city fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims,” he said.
In the suit, Costa Mesa alleges it has seen increased costs in myriad areas as a result of the opioid epidemic, including “medical and therapeutic care,” “counseling, treatment and rehabilitation services,” public safety and code enforcement.
A particularly pressing issue from the city’s perspective is the proliferation of local sober-living homes, which house recovering addicts, including those battling opioid dependence. Costa Mesa “has the largest concentration of sober-living homes in Orange County, creating a plethora of nuisance issues for residents, multiple calls for service by police and fire and millions of dollars in legal fees,” according to a city news release.
Also mentioned in the lawsuit is Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza, who died in November after he was hit by a vehicle while riding his bicycle. The driver, Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo, was suspected of driving under the influence of drugs and has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder. Authorities allege he was in possession of pills prescribed by a Tustin doctor who faces federal charges of illegally distributing opioids and other narcotics by writing prescriptions to people without medical examinations.
“Costa Mesa has been directly injured by the loss of Capt. Kreza, including costs for training and hiring a replacement, as well as pension and death benefits,” the lawsuit states. “These increased costs could have been — and should have been — prevented by the opioid industry.”
Lawsuits such as Costa Mesa’s have become increasingly common. Last month, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to pay $270 million to the state of Oklahoma to settle claims that aggressive marketing of OxyContin helped create the addiction crisis, according to the Associated Press. Nationwide, the company faces nearly 2,000 lawsuits, AP reported.
But Josephson said, “We believe that no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue, and we continue to work closely with governments and law enforcement agencies on this difficult social issue.”