Everett, Wash. sues pharmaceutical company for alleged role in opioid crisis

Ottawa pushed to prosecute Purdue Pharma over 'deceptive' marketing of OxyContin

While Vancouver is in the midst of its own opioid epidemic, two hours away the town of Everett, Washington is tackling the same problem — and they say Purdue Pharma is partly to blame.

The city has filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company alleging the corporation allowed its OxyContin pills to be funneled into the black market.

Everett is the epicentre of the opioid crisis in Washington state — the city has the highest overdose rate in the state. Many of the issues faced by the city are similar to the ones in B.C., namely not enough treatment beds and overloaded response workers.

Hil Kaman, the director of public health and safety for the City of Everett, said there is no set amount the city is seeking in damages but he estimates it will be in the tens of millions.

"We feel that the cost of this in our city, in terms of lives, in terms of treatment, in terms of housing, in terms of policing and our fire department, should be born by that company that is responsible for what we're seeing," said Kaman to guest host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.

Allegations 'inaccurate': Purdue

OxyContin, a brand name for oxycodone, was patented by Purdue's Ontario office in the early 1990s.

Kaman claims Purdue Pharma was under an obligation to monitor whether their product was entering and being sold on the black market.

He said the City of Everett possesses internal e-mails showing efforts to alert the company to its pills being sold on the street. Kaman asserts the company failed to contact the authorities once the e-mails came to their attention.

Purdue Pharma said the allegations in the lawsuit were inaccurate.

"While we are deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication, this lawsuit paints a completely flawed and inaccurate portrayal of events that led to the crisis in Everett, Washington," said Purdue Pharma in an official statement.

The company said the suggestion that failing to report suspicious activity to law enforcement somehow led to the criminal diversion of OxyContin pills was contrary to court records detailing an ongoing investigation into a known drug ring.

Past lawsuits

Kaman said Purdue has previously had lawsuits filed against them for fraudulent representation of the drug.

In 2007 American Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in a U.S. lawsuit that said the company mislead regulators and the public about OxyContin's addictive properties.

In 2012 OxyContin was taken off Canadian pharmacy shelves, with some physicians saying they were unaware of its extremely addictive qualities.

In Canada, following the 2012 recall, OxyContin was replaced with OxyNeo. The replacement pill is much harder to consume intravenously as it can't be crushed or liquefied.  

Kaman said this lawsuit is unique because it is the first to say the company failed to stop its product from entering the black market.

Counterfeit pills resembling OxyContin and Percocet have been found in B.C.'s Lower Mainland and police have said the counterfeit pills contain fentanyl.

There has been no evidence to suggest Purdue knew about any illegal pill trafficking in Canada.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Everett, WA sues pharmaceutical company for alleged role in opioid crisis