Mayor LaToya Cantrell today announced that the City of New Orleans has filed suit against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for their conduct in fueling a national opioid crisis that has threatened the health and safety of the city. The lawsuit was filed in Civil District Court this morning.
“The opioid epidemic has taken more from our people than even gun violence has. We are taking this step and pursuing litigation because our people have been harmed,” said Mayor Cantrell. “We are going to do everything in our power to insist those who have profited from creating this crisis play a major role in addressing the costs to fix it. Addiction has had a terrible impact on the lives of our residents, and the wraparound services that are so desperately needed come at a cost.”
The City Attorney’s office, led by Sunni LeBeouf, is working in collaboration with outside counsel on this litigation matter, filed in response to the opioid crisis. New Orleans had 219 accidental drug-related deaths last year; this represents a jump of 4 percent from the 211 reported in 2016, and a jump of 138 percent from the 92 reported in 2015. More than half of those victims were African Americans, up from 28 percent in 2015. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, was present in 87 of those deaths last year.
Opioid sales generate approximately $11 billion in revenue for drug companies.
“This legal action is part of a multifaceted approach by our Mayor to fight the opioid crisis, with part of that approach being to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their actions in misleading medical professionals, patients and the public on the inherent risks associated with opioid drugs,” City Attorney LeBeouf said.
The opioid crisis has strained City services, most notably in health- and emergency response-related services.
“The opioid mortality rate is higher than deaths from stroke, cancer, gunshot wounds, and nearly every other chronic disease. Our EMS providers are called for overdoses every day. While they give life-saving opioid reversal medications at every opportunity, nearly 1,000 times since the beginning of this year alone, there are many more who cannot be revived, and still more who cannot get long-term help for their addiction,” New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said. “The availability of drug treatment programs has simply been unable to keep pace with the growing need. Funding for long-term, comprehensive substance abuse treatment is scarce, and options for those who need it most are limited.”
New Orleans is not alone in this legal battle. Other neighboring municipalities have filed similar suits.
Damages alleged will be calculated based on the associated costs to the City. The actual damages figures will ultimately reveal themselves during the discovery process as the City begins requesting and compiling information. Nevertheless, it’s very clear that the associated costs to the City are significant.
“Like many other cities, New Orleans is in the grips of an opioid-addiction crisis. Deaths from overdoses are still rising and now outpace murders as one of the leading killers in New Orleans. To save lives, we need to use every tool available to our city. I stand with Mayor Cantrell to take action against the makers of prescription drugs for insufficiently warning about the extreme dangers of prescription opioids. This is a powerful step to hold accountable those who helped begin this tragic scenario. While these companies have profited, our community has been burdened with a terrible cost – both human and financial,” said Councilmember-At-Large Helena Moreno.