Opioid crisis impact on MetroHealth leads to lawsuit against drug makers, marketers

August 28, 2018

Opioid crisis impact on MetroHealth leads to lawsuit against drug makers, marketers

CLEVELAND, Ohio-- The MetroHealth System is pursuing legal action in federal court against opioid drug manufacturers and marketers in an attempt to recoup some of the cost for caring for people affected by opioid addiction and overdoses, the hospital system said today.

“As the healthcare provider for all of Cuyahoga county’s population, we are unfortunately in the position to see some of the most devastating results of the opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Joan Papp, the founder and medical director of Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) and the head of MetroHealth’s 12-person Office of Opioid Safety.

Papp said that more opioid overdoses occur in MetroHealth’s zip code of 44109 than any other in the county.

“I do think that we are one of the most impacted hospitals in the region,” Papp said.

MetroHealth’s filing names about a dozen opioid drug manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Insys Therapeutics, the maker of the potent fentanyl spray Subsys. The lawsuit accuses drug manufacturers of “deceptive marketing” practices that led doctors to believe opioid medications were less addictive than they are.

Papp said that people may wonder why doctors, who prescribe opioids, are going after the drug manufacturer. “We are making the argument in our case that the manufacturers essentially created a campaign of misinformation,” she said. “It’s not the medications themselves, but the false information that was promoted and spread by the drug companies.”

MetroHealth is the county’s safety net hospital, caring for all patients without regard to their ability to pay. In its filing, the hospital system says it has incurred substantial costs in caring for those affected by the heroin and fentanyl overdose epidemic, which will continue into the foreseeable future. The filing does not include a specific dollar cost estimate for damages.

“We have had to invest in programs to re-educate our physicians on safe prescribing practices... and to reexamine how we treat pain,” said Papp.

Healthcare-related costs cited by MetroHealth due to the overdose epidemic include increased hospitalizations, longer patient stays for addiction treatment, community prevention efforts, neonatal care for opioid-exposed newborns and maternal care for their mothers.

MetroHealth’s suit will be part of a multidistrict legislation, in which multiple civil cases that share a common, complex issue are transferred to a single district court. The hospital system joins other healthcare providers in several other states, as well as dozens of governmental bodies in several states, including Northeast Ohio, who have filed such suits.

The trial date for the federal suit filed by the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Summit County, set to be the first heard in federal court against drug manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and distributors such as Ohio-based Cardinal Health, was recently pushed ahead to September of 2019.

Last year in Cuyahoga County, 727 people in died due to an opioid overdose, the most in the county’s history. Recent data from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office indicates that deaths this year could approach the same number.

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