Attorney Russell Budd
SAN ANTONIO – For the past two years, Baron & Budd, a toxic tort firm out of Dallas, has filed numerous opioid lawsuits all across the nation on behalf of municipalities but has been relatively quiet on its home turf.
That changed Monday, as the firm is now representing the city of San Antonio in a lawsuit that charges both drug manufactures and distributors with creating the current opioid crisis.
The city brought the claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and names more than a dozen defendant companies in its petition, a list that includes: Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Actavis, CVS, Kroger, Walgreens and Walmart.
The city maintains it filed the suit, which stretches on for 277 pages, to “eliminate the hazard to public health” caused by the “opioid epidemic” and to “recoup” the money spent because of the companies’ alleged “deceptive” marketing of prescription opioids.
The suit accuses opioid manufacturers of “aggressively pushing” the highly addictive drug – falsely representing to doctors that patients would only “rarely succumb “to drug addiction.
“These pharmaceutical companies aggressively advertised to and persuaded doctors to prescribe highly addictive, dangerous opioids, turning patients into drug addicts for their own corporate profit,” the suit states.
The suit further accuses opioid distributors of “intentionally” breaching their legal duty to “monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.”
Holding distributors liable for the opioid epidemic defies common sense, says John Parker, senior vice president of communications at the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.
“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders,” Parker says. “It’s also critical to understand the role of each stakeholder across the supply chain. Distributors do not conduct research, manufacture, market, or prescribe medications, nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products, or patient-benefit designs. The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated.
“Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”
From 2006 – 2012, more than 5.4 billion opioid pills were supplied to Texas. In 2017, the Texas Legislature proclaimed that deaths resulting from opioids and other controlled substances constitute a public health crisis.
“Unsurprisingly, Texas is in the top 5 states for total number of opioid-related deaths,” the suit states. “From 1999 to 2015, Texas experienced 14,177 opioid-related deaths.
“To put that number into perspective, over a period of those 15 years, Texas’ opioid-related deaths were greater in number than the entire population of a city the size of Katy City, Texas.”
The city is accusing all defendants of gross negligence, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.
In addition to Baron & Budd, the city is represented by several other firms, many of which are out of state, including Powell & Majestro in West Virginia and Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor in Florida.
The suit was filed Sept. 10 in the U.S. District Court for Western Texas, case No. 5:19-cv-01089.