Wayne, Oakland counties sue drug manufacturers over opioid marketing

- Two Michigan counties say they are suing about a dozen drug manufacturers and distributors for deceptive marketing and sale of opioids.

The joint lawsuit was announced Thursday by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

"The number of prescriptions is more than the people in Michigan. So there are more prescriptions than people. I mean that just blows my mind," said attorney Powell Miller.

It alleges that drug manufacturers are using a "concerted, coordinated strategy to shift the way in which doctors and patients think about pain and to encourage the widespread prescribing and use of opioids."

"We have to start somewhere and you start by holding people accountable. You start by getting the truth out," Miller said.

Officials say there were 817 opioid-related deaths in Wayne County last year, up from 506 the year before. Oakland County opioid-related deaths rose from nine in 2009 to 33 in 2015.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of false advertising or deceptive marketing, prescribing opioids for chronic pain when it's not needed and not informing patients or even some doctors of its risks and downplaying its addictiveness.

"There are legitimate uses for these drugs, but the problem is when they become routinely prescribed for common chronic pain that's when the explosion of these prescriptions occurred and now we have a crisis," Miller said.

The suit states that in Wayne County opioid-related deaths have increased by 61 percent from 2015 to 2016 and in Oakland County, they increased by 267 percent. As for the profits, in 2011 pharmaceutical companies generated $11 billion just from opioid sales.

Patterson says there are enough pills prescribed in Oakland County alone for every person to have 45 pills each.

While the crisis continues to take lives, Evans says the financial consequences are major - each county pays more for law enforcement and medical care.

"The human cost and the financial costs to counties is significant. And we think some compensation is necessary for bad behavior," he said.

Although, with no dollar amount attached - some ask, why did this lawsuit take so long to file?

"It's the same thing with tobacco industry. You wait until the evidence is so clear. Not to take action would be irresponsible," said Patterson.

He and others are hoping the suit gains momentum and they are welcoming Macomb County to join, as well as asking patients and doctors to come forward.

"We are not stopping. We are going to fight for this with all our heart soul," Miller said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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