New York hits big pharma with $500mn lawsuit in opioid crisis

January 23, 2018

New York turned the screws on pharmaceutical giants in America's opioid epidemic, suing manufacturers for $500 million on Tuesday as a photographer kickstarted a petition to hold Purdue Pharma accountable as a recovering addict.

The city filed the half-a-billion lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court, following hundreds of other towns and cities in a bid to recoup costs from big pharma as they battle to contain the escalating opioid crisis.

"Who's getting away with bloody murder right now? The big pharmaceutical companies. That's what's really going on," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.

"Big pharma hooked millions of Americans on these drugs, deceived the people and the human cost has been inestimable. At the same time they made billions of dollars in the process," he added.

In 2016, 63,600 people died from a drug overdose in the United States, an average of 174 Americans a day. In 2016, overall US life expectancy fell for the second year running, fueled by the crisis.

In New York, the most populous US city and home to 8.5 million people, more than 1,000 people died in an in 2016, the highest year on record.

More New Yorkers died from opioid overdoses than from car accidents and homicides combined, with rates of overdose deaths more than doubling between 2010 and 2016.

"It's simple. It's time for big to pay for what they have done. It's time for them to be held accountable," de Blasio said.

The lawsuit, like hundreds of others, accuses manufacturers of deceptive marketing and distributors of over-supplying prescription painkillers, burdening the city with increased healthcare, criminal justice and law enforcement costs.

The manufacturers named in the suit include Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, the world's best-selling anti-pain medication; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Mega-drug wholesalers named in the petition include McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Corporation.

Narrowly escaped

Photographer Nan Goldin, herself a recovering opioid addict, is separately waging her own campaign to hold Purdue Pharma accountable for its role in the epidemic.

Goldin, 64, is circulating a petition, already signed by more than 6,000 people, demanding that Purdue Pharma and the family that owns it accept responsibility.

"I survived the opioid crisis. I narrowly escaped," she says in a statement accompanying her petition on

After getting treatment, Goldin began researching the and the mounting deaths.

"I learned that the Sackler family, whose name I knew from museums and galleries, were responsible for the epidemic," she said.

The Sacklers are descended from two brothers, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, who helped build Purdue into a pharmaceutical powerhouse.

Goldin has formed an advocacy group, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, or PAIN, to pressure the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma to finance treatment and prevention programs, and to re-educate doctors on the dangers of over-prescription of opioids.

Her petition, which circulates on Twitter under the hashtag #ShameOnSackler, calls on museums and universities who benefit from Sackler money—including the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim and Harvard—"to refuse future donations from the Sacklers."

Purdue Pharma, which already faces a string of lawsuits, says in an open letter on its website that it is acting to bring the epidemic under control.

"Our industry and our company have and will continue to take meaningful action to reduce ," it said, adding that it was supporting initiatives to educate doctors and develop non-opioid painkillers.

Elizabeth Sackler, a daughter of one of the company's founders, told The New York Times that Purdue Pharma's role in the crisis was "morally abhorrent to me."

Goldin, who lives between New York and Paris, became known in the 1970s with photographs that pushed the boundaries of intimacy and spontaneity, breaking numerous taboos on sexuality. Her work has been exhibited in top museums, including MoMA.

Explore further: 3 Native American tribes sue opioid industry groups

Related Stories

3 Native American tribes sue opioid industry groups

January 9, 2018
Three Native American tribes in the Dakotas are suing opioid manufacturers and distributors, alleging they concealed and minimized the addiction risk of prescription drugs.

Philadelphia sues opioid makers in response to epidemic

January 17, 2018
Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against drug companies that make prescription opioids, saying they've created "an unprecedented public health crisis."

South Carolina sues drug manufacturer over opioid crisis

August 15, 2017
South Carolina has become the latest state to accuse a drug manufacturer of exacerbating its opioid drug crisis by using deceptive marketing, with the state's top prosecutor suing the maker of OxyContin.

Ohio sues five drugmakers over role in opioid crisis

May 31, 2017
The US state of Ohio on Wednesday sued five major producers of prescription opioid medications, accusing them of lying about the deadly risks the painkillers—at the center of a nationwide addiction crisis—posed to public ...

Washington state, Seattle are latest to sue opioid makers

September 28, 2017
Washington state and the city of Seattle on Thursday joined more than two dozen other government entities across the country suing to hold opioid makers accountable for an addiction crisis that has claimed thousands of lives.

An emergency response to Canada's opioid overdose crisis

January 15, 2018
To help address the opioid overdose epidemic, Canada should develop a regulated program to distribute opioids and prevent deaths, argues a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Recommended for you

Common use of antipsychotics shown ineffective for delirium in intensive care patients

October 22, 2018
Critically ill patients in intensive care units (ICUs) did not benefit from two antipsychotic drugs used to treat delirium, according to a large clinical trial funded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National ...

Medicating distress: Risky sedative prescriptions for older adults vary widely

October 18, 2018
Despite years of warnings that older adults shouldn't take sedative drugs that put them at risk of injury and death, a new study reveals how many primary care doctors are still prescribing them, how often, and exactly where.

Medical management of opioid-induced constipation differs from other forms of condition

October 17, 2018
Traditional laxatives are recommended as first-line agents to treat patients with a confirmed diagnosis of opioid-induced constipation (OIC), according to a new guideline from the American Gastroenterological Association ...

Research assesses geographic distribution of new antibiotics following market introduction

October 16, 2018
There is a growing need for new antibiotics to help combat the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance. According to a new study conducted by researchers at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) with ...

Health insurer policies may discourage use of non-opioid alternatives for lower back pain

October 5, 2018
Public and private health insurance policies in the U.S. are missing important opportunities to encourage the use of physical therapy, psychological counseling and other non-drug alternatives to opioid medication for treating ...

Opioid overdoses, depression linked

October 3, 2018
The link between mental health disorders and substance abuse is well-documented. Nearly one in 12 adults in the U.S is depressed, and opioid-related deaths are skyrocketing. As these numbers continue to climb, some mental ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 24, 2018
Who are the plaintiffs? What are the alleged damages? Do the victims get the money or are they looking to levy a fine so the city is the only beneficiary? Are any news outlets looking at those important details of the lawsuit?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.