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Lake County police could start carrying opiod overdose antidote

A kit containing opioid-counteracting drug naloxone and a nasal delivery device are displayed at the Porter County Sheriff's Department.

HAMMOND — The city of Hammond filed a racketeering lawsuit in federal court Thursday against more than a dozen opioid manufacturers and distributors for their alleged role in causing the opioid addiction crisis.

The city's lawsuit alleges the manufacturing companies, which include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceuticals, used deceptive marketing practices to promote opioid medications beyond their effective short-term use, which has helped fuel a growing crisis in Hammond.

The distributing companies allegedly failed to identify, report and stop suspicious orders of these medications, which also helped fuel the crisis, the lawsuit claims.

The 164-page complaint claims Hammond had the second-highest number of overdose deaths in 2016 in Lake County, which itself has the second-highest number of deaths in the state resulting from drug overdose.

There were 114 overdose deaths in Lake County reported in 2016, according to data provided earlier this year by the Lake County Coroner's Office.

Eighty overdose deaths were reported in 2015, and 68 in 2014. Marion County leads the state in overdose deaths in all three years, according to data from the Indiana State Department of Health.

Lake County also had the second-highest number of non-fatal emergency department visits due to opioid overdose, with 175 visits in 2014, the lawsuit states. The county reported 160 opioid overdose hospital visits in 2015, state health department data indicates. 

In 2012 and 2013, there were 96 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents in Lake County, according to the lawsuit. Those numbers have fallen since then — there were 83 prescriptions per 100 residents in the county in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control. 

"The opioid crisis has hit Hammond like it has almost every other city and town in Indiana and across our country," Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said in a statement Thursday. "We have had to expend additional resources and funds to combat it and to help those afflicted with addiction." 

McDermott said it was imperative corporations accept their responsibility for the crisis, and this lawsuit will help bring their role to light.  

The opioid manufacturers named in the lawsuit are Purdue Pharma, Cephalon Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Noramco Inc., Endo Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt PLC, Allergan PLC and Watson Pharmaceuticals.

The named opioid distributors are AmeriSourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp. 

The city accuses the companies of racketeering, public nuisance, ordinance violation, negligence, unjust enrichment and damages resulting from a civil conspiracy.

William Foster, a spokesman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement Thursday the company believed the allegations in lawsuits against the company are both legally and factually unfounded.

"Responsibly used opioid-based pain medicines give doctors and patients important choices to help manage the debilitating effects of chronic pain," Foster said. "At the same time, we recognize opioid abuse and addiction is a serious public health issue that must be addressed." 

*John Parker is a senior vice president for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a national trade association that represents wholesale distributors, including McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmeriSourceBergen. 

He said in a statement the trade association was taking steps to be part of the solution in addressing the opioid epidemic, "but we aren't willing to be scapegoats." 

He said distributors were logistics companies that store, transport and deliver medicines, but the companies did not make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines or dispense them to consumers. 

A spokeswoman for Mallinckrodt said Friday the company was "deeply committed" to regulatory compliance and maintains industry-leading controls around the sales of its opioid products. 

AmeriSourceBergen said in a statement Friday the company refuses service to customers the company determines are a diversion risk, and provides daily reports to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 

The other defendant companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Hammond is asking the companies compensate the city for past and future costs to abate the ongoing public nuisance caused by the opioid epidemic, as well as other unspecified damages resulting from the public health crisis.

The city did not respond to an email asking for an estimate of how much has been spent combating the epidemic. 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern Indiana. The law firm Cohen & Malad of Indianapolis is representing Hammond. 

By filing the lawsuit, Hammond has joined dozens of other municipalities across the country seeking restitution from pharmaceutical companies that manufacture or distribute opioid medication.

Cohen & Malad filed a similar lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the city of Indianapolis.

*Correction: A previous version of this story misattributed information from the Healthcare Distribution Alliance. The information should have been attributed to John Parker. The Times regrets this error. 


Courts and social justice reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.