Workers comp, health insurers for Illinois towns add to mass of municipal opioid lawsuits

Organizations providing workers comp insurance and employee health insurance for more than 200 Illinois local governments have joined the mass of lawsuits against drug makers, distributors and others associated with the spread of so-called opioid painkillers.

On Oct. 15, lawyers from the firm of Edelson P.C., of Chicago, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, on behalf of Intergovernmental Risk Management Agency and the Intergovernmental Personnel Benefit Cooperative.

IRMA helps manage worker compensation claims for 72 local governments in northeastern Illinois. IPBC helps 131 local governments provide health insurance benefits to employees and retirees.

All of the defendants named in the action were accused in the lawsuit of playing some role in an alleged campaign of marketing and misinformation to boost the sale of opioid painkiller pills like Oxycontin, Percocet and others, allegedly leading to a nationwide surge in addiction and its associated societal and treatment costs.

Defendants named in the action were sorted into four groups: manufacturers, distributors, “front groups” and prescribers.

Manufacturers listed as defendants include pharmaceutical companies Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Teva, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Watson Pharmaceuticals and Mallinckrodt PLC.

Distributor defendants included AmerisourceBergen Corporation, of Chesterbrook, Pa., which has a distribution center in suburban Romeoville; Cardinal Health, of Dublin, Ohio, which has warehouses in suburban Aurora and Waukegan; and McKesson Corporation, of San Francisco, which also has an Aurora distribution center.

In a third grouping, the lawsuit identified three so-called “front groups,” who stand accused essentially of lending an air of legitimacy to the widespread use of opioid drugs. This group of defendants included the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Geriatric Society and the American Pain Society.

Finally, the complaint names Joseph Giacchino and physician Paul Madison, who were involved in the management of Riverside Pain Management in suburban Melrose Park from 2013-2017 and who in that role allegedly overprescribed opioids.

Like other similar lawsuits that have come before against many of the same defendants over opioid pain medications, the IRMA and IPBC complaint asserted each of the defendants played a role in an effort to “flood” communities in Illinois and across the U.S. with opioids.

And like other similar lawsuits, the plaintiffs in this action asserted they have been left holding the bill to treat those allegedly left addicted to the drugs, while the local governments who are members of both IRMA and IPBC suffer harm from diminished or impaired workforces.

“As providers of insurance-related services, IRMA and IPBC have had to shoulder substantial and unusual costs resulting from the far-reaching impact of the over-prescription and overuse of opioids,” the complaint said. “In addition to the unanticipated burden of covering opioid prescription costs, IRMA and IPBC have expended vast funds on hospitalizations due to overdose, addiction treatment services, and overdose reversal medications. IRMA has likewise paid out millions of dollars in employee disability benefits to injured workers who received long-term opioid prescriptions to treat chronic pain, a treatment option which, as detailed below, has no scientific justification.”

“This lawsuit is about real costs incurred directly as a result of the opioid epidemic,” said IRMA Executive Director Margo Ely in a prepared statement. “We have seen fully employed, respectable public employees with work injuries who were prescribed opioids unnecessarily and became addicted, ultimately rendering them unable to return to work and costing our members millions.

“Opioid abuse and addiction has cost our members through not only lost productivity, but very sad stories of lost careers and lives.”

The lawsuit follows similar actions filed earlier this year by a host of suburban communities also represented by the Edelson firm.

Those actions have since been removed from Cook County court to federal court by the defendants, who assert the cases should be merged into the mass action of opioid-related cases from across the country now pending in federal court in Ohio.

The plaintiffs have argued the cases have strong enough ties to Cook County and Illinois to remain in the county court, and not in the mass action in Ohio, a destination they have called a “black hole.”

This article was first published by Cook County Record.

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