Clark County plans to sue the world’s biggest generic drugmaker Wednesday morning.
The county is seeking to recover hundreds of millions to billions of dollars spent addressing the opioid epidemic through costs related to law enforcement, medical treatment and social services.
A draft of the lawsuit provided to the Review-Journal accuses pharmaceutical companies of carrying out a “nefarious plan” to create billions in profit while playing down the addictive qualities of narcotic painkillers.
“The dramatic increase in prescription opioid use over the last two decades, and the resultant public-health crisis, is no accident,” the draft states.
County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to allow District Attorney Steve Wolfson to pursue the suit in conjunction with Las Vegas personal injury law firm Eglet Prince.
With some 150 civil cases against opioid manufacturers and distributors already filed in federal court, attorney Robert Eglet told commissioners it was imperative to sue now.
“We need to get into this litigation … so we don’t have to wait around for whatever crumbs are spilled our way like what happened in the (big tobacco) litigation,” he said.
The county’s move comes despite a warning from the office of Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt that the lawsuit could undermine a similar, ongoing multi-state investigation.
A draft of the lawsuit includes nearly 20 defendants.
They range from the local Lam’s Pharmacy, which the FBI once accused of aiding a pill mill operation, to industry giants like McKesson Pharmaceutical and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an Israeli company known as the world’s biggest generic drugmaker.
“The crisis was precipitated by Defendants, who, through deceptive means, and using one of the biggest pharmaceutical marketing campaigns in history, carefully engineered and continue to support a dramatic shift in the culture of prescribing opioids by falsely portraying both the risks of addiction and abuse and the safety and benefits of long-term use,” the draft states.
Since 2008 more people have died in Clark County from an opioid overdose than auto crashes or firearms, according to the Southern Nevada Health District. Almost 300 people died from such overdoses in 2015.
Eglet said the case could take two to eight years to litigate.
The county’s damages are known to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he said, probably in the billions.
Eglet said he plans to sue in Clark County District Court because Nevada’s product liability laws are favorable to the county. He added the county will reap other benefits by filing its own lawsuit, including a larger settlement or verdict, and the discretion to spend damages.
Before commissioners voted, another Las Vegas-based attorney tried to get them to pick their co-counsel via the competitive bid process.Nevada Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, who is running for Attorney General, is a partner at Eglet Prince.
“You have far more leverage than you realize to take a look at the firms out there and see what they have to offer in terms of representing Clark County,” said Peter Wetherall, who has discussed filing a similar suit with the city of Reno.
Wolfson contended pointed to Eglet Prince’s history in big money cases — twice the firm has won catastrophic injury verdicts larger than $500 million.
“It’s all about winning,” Wolfson said.
The Reno City Council on Wednesday will discuss whether to partner with Wetherall’s law firm. Wetherall suggested Monday that the city use the competitive bid process in its selection.