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Michigan communities sue pharmaceutical companies claiming they caused opioid crisis

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a federal lawsuit was filed on Tuesday claiming pharmaceutical manufactures, retailers and distributors created the opioid abuse epidemic in Michigan.

Nine Michigan cities and counties launched legal action against pharmaceutical retailers, distributors, and manufacturers claiming the companies didn't effectively control highly addictive drugs and are directly to blame for the current opioid epidemic.

"We will see them in court,” Attorney Mark Bernstein said on Tuesday.

Bernstein’s law firm is spearheading the federal lawsuit that goes after opioid manufacturers, like Purdue Pharma, the company that produces OxyContin.

"The opioid drug crisis is the most fatal drug crisis on record in American history," Bernstein said.

The complaint alleges opioid manufacturers used data to understand which Michigan doctors to target through their sales force.

"This has societal and economic implications that are profound,” Bernstein said. “These are counties that are seeing opioids, heroin, and Hepatitis A which are all a natural progression ricochet through their communities, destroying the fabric of their communities in many ways, causing havoc to their budgets."

Saginaw County's lawsuit alleges drug manufacturers launched an "aggressive misinformation campaign regarding opioids."

"Thirty-five people in just the first part of 2017 died in Saginaw over an opioid overdose. That's a huge significant increase,” Commissioner Cheryl Hadsall said. “Also, our prescription drugs are up by over 43 percent."

Hadsall says this lawsuit reminds her of when the state of Michigan sued the tobacco industry.

But, if this lawsuit successful, it won't be the state that reaps the rewards, it's local communities mentioned in the lawsuit.

"All that money stayed in Lansing and it was supposed to help us, help with programs and we never saw any of it at the county level,” she said.

The lawsuit points out the opioid crisis is putting a burden on mental health facilities, jails, and emergency systems.

In Lansing, the lawsuit is catching the attention of lawmakers who are working on legislation to end the opioid epidemic.

"It's an issue we have to tackle," Speaker of the House Tom Leonard said. "In 2015, the state of Michigan lost 2,000 of our citizens to this opioid epidemic."

Bernstein says there will soon be another round of Michigan counties that will join the lawsuit, including some in West Michigan.

The communities include: Macomb County, City of Detroit, Genesee, Saginaw County, Grand Traverse County, Delta County, Chippewa County, City of Lansing, City of Escanaba.

Purdue Pharma release the following statement reacting to the federal lawsuit:

We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.

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