Ocean County Press Release
TOMS RIVER – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders will become part of national litigation in the fight they hope will reduce deaths from opioid overdoses.
"While we have implemented programs through our Prosecutor's Office and our Corrections Department and Juvenile Services and a host of other agencies to help our residents suffering from addiction, this action is another step we are taking in the fight against drug overdoses," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines. "We want to send a clear message that it's time for everyone to get on board and work to solve this issue including those companies that manufacture and those who market these drugs."
The Ocean County Freeholders approved a resolution June 19 authorizing the Garden City, N.Y. law firm Sanders Phillips Grossman to file a complaint on behalf of the County as part of the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, which is a consolidation of what originally was nearly 200 pending opioid-related cases alleging "improper marketing of and inappropriate distribution of various prescription opiate medications" in cities, states, and towns across the U.S.
"We are joining several other counties in New Jersey along with the state itself in this litigation," said Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director John P. Kelly, who serves as Director of Law and Public Safety. "The number of litigants has ballooned to well over 1,000 and continues to grow.
"This action is about saving lives," Kelly said. "Ocean County has experienced far too many deaths from drug overdoses. This is another avenue we are taking to remedy this."
In 2018, 187 drug overdose deaths were reported in Ocean County, according to the Ocean County Health Department.
"The numbers are very telling and we want to do all we can to see these numbers decrease and to help those afflicted with drug addiction," Haines said.
According to the Legal Executive Institute website, the plaintiffs that initially moved to consolidate their cases into a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) were all political subdivisions - including cities, counties, and states - other plaintiffs now include individuals, consumers, hospitals, third-party payers, and Native American tribes.
Haines noted that should the County and the litigation be successful and Ocean County receives a part of any settlement, she would like to see a portion of the money to be used for rehabilitation especially to allow the extension of time someone can be treated in rehab.
"Drug addiction does not go away overnight and those who are sick need far more time in treatment than currently provided," Haines said.
The Legal Executive Institute noted the defendants in the MDL case are opioid manufacturers, distributors, and physicians. The manufacturer-defendants include various corporate entities, including Actavis, Allergan, Cephalon, Endo, Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Teva, and Watson. Among the distributor-defendants are the "Big Three" pharmaceutical distributors — AmerisouceBergen, McKesson Corp., and Cardinal Health — which together allegedly distributed more than 80 percent of the drugs at issue.
According to the allegations in the MDL from 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 persons died of overdose related to opioid pain medication in the United States. In 2013 alone, an estimated 1.9 million persons abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain medication.
According to the Legal Executive Institute, in the order consolidating the cases, the common allegations are that the:
• manufacturers of prescription opioid medications overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of the use of their opioids and aggressively marketed (directly and through key opinion leaders) these drugs to physicians; and/or
• distributors failed to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse, and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.