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Opioids

This 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. 

The city of Cheyenne has joined Casper, Carbon County, the Northern Arapaho Tribe and hundreds of other governmental entities across the country in filing a federal lawsuit against a group of prominent drug manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue and Walgreens, for their roles in allegedly spreading the opioid crisis that has killed tens of thousands of Americans in recent years.

The 199-page complaint filed in federal court last Friday is nearly identical to the suit filed by the city of Casper in early February. It alleges broadly that a dozen opioid-related companies in the suit were negligent in the marketing and distribution of the narcotic painkillers. Cheyenne’s legal effort seeks damages from the companies.

The suit was filed by Jackson attorney Jason Ochs, who represents both Casper and Carbon County in their federal suits against the companies. After Casper filed its suit last month, he told the Star-Tribune that all the Wyoming opioid suits are being consolidated in a Cleveland court for pre-trial workup. Should the cases go to trial, they will do so back in Wyoming, he said.

“This suit takes aim at the two primary causes of the opioid crisis: (a) a marketing scheme involving the false and deceptive marketing of prescription opioids, which was designed to dramatically increase the demand for and sale of opioids and opioid prescriptions,” the city alleges in its suit, in language identical to Casper’s filing, “and (b) a supply chain scheme, pursuant to which the various entities in the supply chain failed to design and operate systems to identify suspicious orders of prescription opioids, maintain effective controls against diversion, and halt suspicious orders when they were identified ... “

Purdue, the most well-known and high-profile company in the broader opioid discussion, is the maker of OxyContin and is present in the federal suits by Wyoming entities, as well as the state lawsuit filed by the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office last year. It has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and noted that it received approval to sell the painkillers from federal regulators. However, faced with a wave of lawsuits by more than a thousand municipalities across the nation, the company has floated bankruptcy in recent weeks as “an option” to get out from under the litigation onslaught.

The lengthy list of defendants includes Walmart and Walgreens, which have distributed opioids.

The other companies are Teva, which owns opioid-maker Cephalon; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the maker of fentanyl; Endo Health, the maker of Percocet and others; Actavis Pharma and its companies, which also manufacture opioids; Insys Therapeutics, which makes a form of fentanyl; Mallinckrodt, an Irish company that makes oxycodone; and Cardinal, AmerisourceBergen

and McKesson, which all distribute the drugs.

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As the lawsuits pile up in Cleveland, the attorneys working those cases are preparing for two trials there in the fall. Negotiations over settlements have been ongoing for more than a year, according to the Washington Post, as Purdue and other companies brace for a state trial in Oklahoma, which would be the first to go before a jury (settlement talks continue there, as well).

A message sent to Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr was not returned Thursday. The city was closed due to the blizzard that swept over much of the state earlier this week.

“Defendants’ efforts have been wildly successful,” the city alleges in its suit. “Opioids are now the most prescribed class of drugs. Opioid sales in the United States have exceeded $8 billion in revenue annually since 2009.”

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Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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