Indianapolis will be the first city in the state to take the fight against the opioid epidemic to the corporations it says have contributed to the crisis. Mayor Joe Hogsett has announced the city has hired locally-based law firm Cohen & Malad, LLP to handle a planned lawsuit targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors. The stakes are high, officials say, citing 345 deaths in Marion County last year from drug overdoses.
During a news conference Thursday morning, Hogsett said the current picture is grim and this is only part of a larger approach. "We’re in the process of what I believe is comprehensive criminal justice reform to try to address addiction-related challenges — mental health and mental illness challenges. So, it’s not as though the city, all that we’re doing is trying to hold accountable those who we believe should be held accountable, but rather, this is just yet another tool in a holistic approach that the city is taking to criminal justice reform."
The targets of the legal action are what Cohen & Malad Managing Partner Irwin Levin calls "the people at the top of the chain." Irwin, the law firm and city stakeholders say the precise terms of the damages they will seek have not yet been determined, but he says "likely" defendants will include Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma LP, Endo International PLC (Nasdaq: ENDP) in Pennsylvania and Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (NYSE: TEVA) on the manufacturing side and Ohio-based Cardinal Health (NYSE: CAH), McKesson Corp. (NYSE: MCK) in California and Pennsylvania-based AmerisourceBergen Corp. (NYSE: ABC) on the distribution side.
Opioid-related deaths have jumped 250 percent over the last six years in Marion County, according to the city. "Left unchecked, opioid addiction will continue to incite criminality, tear apart families, and take the lives of Indianapolis residents," said Hogsett. "As we work to combat this epidemic of addiction and connect affected community members with the treatment they need, those who have contributed to this crisis should be held accountable."
Cohen & Malad will partner with the Office of Public Health and Safety, the Office of Corporation Counsel, as well as public safety stakeholders determine the full list of defendants and applicable legal claims. The city says the firm will only be paid if the funds are recovered.
"These potential defendants spread the false message that opioids were safe for chronic pain and not addictive. They were at the top of the chain of distribution. They saw unquestionably suspicious orders of opioids, but turned a blind eye to their duties and legal obligations to stop and report those orders," Levin said. More details of the legal action, Levin said, will be revealed in the coming weeks.
During a news conference Thursday morning, Mayor Joe Hogsett said the current picture is grim and this is only part of a larger approach.
The targets of the legal action are what Cohen & Malad Managing Partner Irwin Levin calls “the people at the top of the chain.”