Pinal County takes owners of opioid-maker, pharmacies to court

Heather Smathers//September 26, 2019

Pinal County takes owners of opioid-maker, pharmacies to court

Heather Smathers//September 26, 2019

(Stock/Karen Foley Photography)
(Stock/Karen Foley Photography)

Pinal County filed a lawsuit September 25 against family members who are owners of a pharmaceutical company that is alleged to have contributed to the opioid epidemic.

The county has joined six other counties and two Arizona cities that this year have sued Purdue Pharma, members of the Sackler family, other pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies.

Kent Volkmer, Pinal County attorney, said the county filed its own lawsuit against individual members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, because of the severe damage opioid abuse did to the county’s residents and the effects on the county as a community.

“We believe a Pinal County judge and jury has a better understanding of the negative effects the opioid crisis did on the county,” Volkmer said. “Pinal County is the correct venue.”

Pinal County stands to receive millions of dollars in a possible settlement, money Volkmer said would go toward compensating victims and recouping costs the county has spent after years of fighting the epidemic.

“Government agencies have been modified for years trying to stay ahead of this crisis. Pinal County has seen increases in law enforcement expenses and increased costs at the medical examiner and health departments,” Volkmer said.

Purdue Pharma currently is seeking bankruptcy protection. Pinal County’s lawsuit doesn’t name the company; rather, it seeks monetary relief from each of the members of the Sackler family as individuals. The suit also names pharmacies such as Walgreens, Osco, Fry’s and Bashas’ that doled out opioids, and a doctor currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in administering the painkillers.

“Each of the Defendants in this action engaged in an industry-wide effort to downplay the dangerous and deadly potential effects of the misuse of prescription opioids,” the lawsuit states.

Volkmer said in the lawsuit the case is about corporate greed.

“Simply put, each of the Defendants put its desire for profits above the health and well-being of the County’s citizens,” the lawsuit reads.

 Mohave, Apache, Pima, La Paz, and Yavapai counties and Glendale and Surprise each have similar lawsuits pending in state court.

In July, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit with the United States Supreme Court asking the high court to stop the Sackler family from raiding the company’s assets. Brnovich specifically wants the court to order the family to restore funds they are alleged to have transferred out of the company’s holdings, money that could be used to compensate victims and families.

Volkmer likened the county’s lawsuit to the ones taking on the tobacco industry, and said that the county has the duty to hold the Sackler family and those who prescribed and handed out the painkillers responsible. For starters, he said, they perpetrated a lie that opioids weren’t addictive, then hid the addictive properties. Doctors and pharmacies continued to push the medicine on people who were addicted, he said.

“My obligation is to seek justice, and to get healing for victims while at the same time holding perpetrators responsible,” Volkmer said.

Volkmer said the case, barring unforeseen complications, would take about 18 months to come to a conclusion.

Volkmer said the county has partnered with private law firm Fennemore Craig, P.C. to bring the suit. Fennemore Craig will be the lead litigators in Arizona and California-based Theodora Oringher will be the lead trial counsel.