Snohomish County files suit to keep opioid distributors accountable

Police Chief: ‘Edmonds is absolutely not immune’
By Brian Soergel | Feb 01, 2019
Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan

Noting that Edmonds is not immune to the deathly grip of the opioid crisis, Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan said he’s fully supportive of the Snohomish County Council’s unanimous vote to file a civil lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and McKesson Pharmaceutical, makers and distributors of OxyContin and other opioids, among other defendants.

Everett and the Tulalip Tribes previously filed federal lawsuits against Purdue.

In a report released earlier this month, the Snohomish Health District estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 people in Snohomish County are suffering from opioid use disorder. It’s likely that another 35,000 to 80,000 people are misusing opioids, the report said.

Compaan said his support includes the filing of lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, complicit health care providers and pharmacies as means of redress.

“We continue to pay a tremendous societal and human price for all the consequences of opioid addiction, the ravages of this crisis sparing no community,” Compaan said. “Edmonds is absolutely not immune; addiction and crime so often hand-in-hand, something that my officers and the criminal justice system face each and every day.”

The County filed the suit Jan. 28 with the support of the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary.

The lawsuit asserts that Purdue, McKesson and others caused significant harm to Snohomish County by, among other things, recklessly ignoring criminal activity and pursuing corporate interests over the interests of residents.

It seeks to hold all of the defendants accountable for the illegal diversion of opioids into the black market, including to drug rings, pill mills, and other dealers for dispersal of the highly addictive pills in the county.

“We see the suffering caused by opioid addiction in our criminal justice system, our neighborhoods and our schools,” said Cornell, an Edmonds resident who began his job as the county’s prosecuting attorney earlier this month.

”By filing this civil lawsuit, we are trying to force these companies to take responsibility for their reckless actions. That is the surest path for protecting our community and others like us.”

Purdue denies the allegations.

Terry Ryan, chair of the County Council, said the lawsuit “is our way of holding these companies accountable to our residents. Nothing can bring back sobriety or peace of mind, but this can help to ensure that other communities won’t be harmed in the future.”

OxyContin has been identified as one of the primary contributors to opioid addiction and a common first step on a pathway to heroin and fentanyl addiction. One out of every three inmates booked into Snohomish County Jail in Everett is immediately placed on an opioid withdrawal watch, Trenary said.

The lawsuit details numerous examples of defendants’ misconduct, including based on internal Purdue and McKesson emails and other documents.

For example, the complaint chronicles a drug ring in the Los Angeles area engaged in a pattern of transparently false OxyContin orders, for the purpose of distributing OxyContin on the black market and into Snohomish County.

Despite knowledge, Purdue and McKesson took no action and instead they continued to supply massive and disturbing quantities of OxyContin to the drug ring until it was ultimately shut down by law enforcement, the lawsuit claims.

The complaint also describes how the misconduct of local physicians, clinics, and pharmacies resulted in dangerous quantities of OxyContin being illegally diverted into Snohomish County.

“This lawsuit is about the health and safety of our community,” said Snohomish County Councilmember Stephanie Wright, who represents Edmonds and is chair of the Snohomish County Board of Health.

”These companies chose to profit from the suffering of so many people in our county, and we are going to hold them accountable.”

In November 2017, Somers activated the emergency management system to address the opioid crisis in Snohomish County. With Sheriff Trenary and the Snohomish Health District, the Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group was established to better coordinate the county’s response to the crisis.

This approach has allowed for a regional approach and the achievement of common goals, Trenary said. The MAC Group work has allowed for a more efficient use of resources, an elimination of unnecessary redundancies, and a better understanding of the impact the crisis has on the county.

“With all the decades' long effort toward drug education and interdiction,” Compaan said, “who would have ever thought we would find ourselves in this situation? But that's unfortunately where we are.”


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