Thurston County announces lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

By The Chronicle

Thurston County announced today it would join other cities and counties across the state of Washington and the state Attorney General’s Office in suing opioid drug manufacturers for the effects of the addictive drugs on its communities.

“Opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels in Thurston County and opioid related deaths have increased dramatically over the past decade. We believe these companies directly contributed to the creation of this epidemic,” said Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim, in a press release.

Tunheim initiated the litigation on behalf of the county, which will be represented in the suit by Seattle based law firm Keller Rohrback.

Keller Rohrback has also filed opioid suits on behalf of King, Pierce, and Skagit counties, and the cities of Tacoma, Mount Vernon, Burlington, and Sedro-Woolley, according to a press release.

Clark County also recently filed suit against opioid manufacturers and the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office is researching law firms it could retain in a similar suit, Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer told the Board of Lewis County Commissioners earlier this month.

Thurston County’s lawsuit alleges that the county has “experienced significant harm” as a result of large-scale distribution of opioid prescription drugs through “deliberate and systematic practices of providing false and misleading information to doctors and patients about the safety of prescription opioid drugs over the last 20 years,” according to a press release.

Thurston County experienced an increase in heroin use following the uptick in prescription opioid use, which has been a common trend, according to the county.

“There’s no question the opioid crisis is a public emergency,” said Schelli Slaughter, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Director, in a press release. “Last year, roughly half of the individuals who used our county syringe exchange reported their primary drug was heroin. We know that people from all walks of life are struggling with addiction, and that needs to be addressed not just on the streets, but at the source.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Western District of Washington against prescription opioid manufacturers and three primary wholesale distributors of prescription opioids.

The complaint accuses those defendants of violating the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the federal RICO statute, and argues that their conduct constitutes a public nuisance, negligence, gross negligence, and unjust enrichment under Washington law, according to the press release.

“Thurston County is constantly looking at innovative ways to help those who are impacted by drug addiction in our community.” Tunheim said. “However, our strategy against this opioid epidemic must also include holding these companies, who have reaped substantial profits from the sale of these drugs, accountable for creating the worst human-caused epidemic in history.”