Pennsylvania county sues 14 drug companies over role in opioid epidemic

PITTSBURGH -- A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, against 14 drug companies, claiming they play a role in the number of opioid overdoses, CBS Pittsburgh reports.

The lawsuit comes after an explosive joint investigation by "60 Minutes" and The Washington Post which revealed how Congress had helped disarm the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with a 2016 law. Whistleblowers said the law impeded the DEA from stopping distribution of large quantities of opioids to suspect pharmacies.

An average of 13 people die of drug overdoses in Pennsylvania every day and many of those deaths are caused by an addiction to prescription painkillers. Those overdoses have cost Beaver County millions of dollars, the lawsuit claims.

Attorney Bob Peirce Jr., who was hired by the county, announced the lawsuit Monday, calling the scale of the opioid epidemic unbelievable.

"The drug companies and the distributors who we are suing knew that these drugs were addictive and they kept pumping them into the mainstream of these small towns and counties," Peirce said.

He said Beaver County, which is just northwest of Pittsburgh, has the ability to recover the money spent by taxpayers, and he noted that unlike the tobacco lawsuit decades ago, damages from the opioid abuse can be cited. "The overtime, the emergency medical responses, the millions of dollars that this drug crisis has cost our counties," he said.

Peirce said the 23 defendants include pharmaceutical companies and doctors who worked for the companies -- doctors who said the opioid drugs were not addictive.

"If you saw '60 Minutes' last night, you saw the three major distributors. We are suing them. You saw some doctors testify that these drugs were not addictive. We are suing those doctors. And there are 14 pharmaceutical companies that manufactured and distributed these drugs under the guise that they were not addictive," Peirce said.

Peirce said he expects by the end of October, there will be lawsuits filed on behalf of other counties in western Pennsylvania. For Beaver County, the law firm's fee will be 25 percent of whatever damages are recovered.

"They don't have to spend any money," said Peirce. "We are bearing the cost of this. We're bearing the cost of the investigation, we're bearing the cost of the litigation and this is something they don't have to do. Now, they're working with us. All of the counties are working with us."