San Mateo County joins suit against opioid makers — 26 died from opioids in county last year

From staff and wire reports

San Mateo County has joined more than 1,300 cities, counties and groups in suing opi- oid prescription drug makers for allegedly fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday (Feb. 21) in U.S. District Court, County Counsel John Beiers says that 26 county residents died last year from causes linked to opioids, and 11 people died from heroin use.

In 2017, 33 San Mateo County residents died due to fentanyl, heroin and the use of other opioids, according to a report from the Sheriff’s Office.

Also in 2017, there were 112 self-reported overdoses to the California Poison Control, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

One of the San Mateo County residents who died in 2018 of a fentanyl overdose was 32-year-old Alison Catalli, a San Carlos resident. The District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting Jon Oxenford, 25, who allegedly sold Catalli the fentanyl that killed her. Oxenford is facing charges of felony sale of narcotics, causing great bodily injury and possession of meth, which could lead to nine years in prison.

Epidemic costs county millions

The lawsuit filed by Beiers claims that the opioid epidemic costs the county millions of dollars a year in extra expenditures for drug treatment, emergency room visits, law enforcement and social services.

“Our job is to protect the residents of San Mateo County, including public funds — we would not be doing our job if we did not take steps to address the opioid epidemic impacting our county, including holding the corporate bad actors accountable for their part in this tragedy,” Beiers said in a statement.

The lawsuit is expected to be transferred to U.S. District Court in Cleveland, Ohio, where Judge Dan Polster is overseeing more than 1,300 similar lawsuits filed by cities, counties, states, tribes, hospitals and insurance companies.

Like the other cases, San Mateo County’s complaint alleges that the makers of pain-killing drugs such as oxycodone, Oxycontin, a brand of oxycodone, and fentanyl misled doctors and patients about the risks of addiction and overdose and failed to re- port suspicious drug sales to authorities.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine.

Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. It is often added to heroin to increase its potency or to be disguised as highly potent heroin. Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin rather than fentanyl, which often results in overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Other Bay Area counties that have sued

Other Bay Area jurisdictions that have filed federal lawsuits now pending in Ohio include the City and County of San Francisco and Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties.

The 20 defendants in San Mateo County’s lawsuit include Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma LP, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., as well as six members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma.

The legal claims include public nuisance, false advertising, deceptive business practices, negligence and fraudulent concealment of material facts.

Judge Polster has scheduled an initial trial in October on three lawsuits filed by Cleveland, Akron and two Ohio counties. He has also been urging a settlement of all the cases.

Last year, San Mateo County filed a separate lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against three distributors of opioid drugs, including San Francisco-based McKesson Corp. That lawsuit has also been transferred to the federal court in Ohio.