PATERSON — The amount of oxycodone, a highly addictive painkiller, delivered to pharmacies in the Paterson area more than doubled over a recent five year period, according to a lawsuit filed by city officials against the pharmaceutical industry.
The lawsuit, filed last week, says the volume of oxycodone processed in the Paterson area jumped from 27,718 grams in 2006 to 58,773 in 2011, which is enough for about 3 million pills.
The volume of oxycodone prescriptions in the Paterson area has tapered off during the past several years but remains at levels that are more than 50 percent higher than they were in 2006, according to the lawsuit.
“The damage was already done,” said Judy Scolnick, an attorney with Scott+Scott, the New York law firm handling the case for Paterson.
Scolnick said the subsequent decline in prescriptions since 2011 should not be interpreted as a reduction in the problems caused by the over-the-counter narcotics. The prescriptions became more difficult to obtain, but people who were hooked on the medications began turning to street drugs, she said.
“It’s not like their brains changed and they weren’t addicted anymore,” said Scolnick. “They were still addicted. They were still craving it.”
Paterson last week joined the growing number of governments that have filed lawsuits alleging that the country’s largest pharmaceutical companies engaged in an ongoing campaign to mislead the public about the dangers of prescription opioids.
The Paterson lawsuit, which names more than nine different manufacturers and distributors, accuses the companies of deceiving doctors and patients about the addictive nature of the drugs by providing misleading information in medical journals and education courses.
Several of the companies named in the lawsuit did not respond to inquiries seeking their comments on the litigation.
The State of New Jersey filed a similar lawsuit earlier this month as did the City of Newark.
West Virginia earlier this year received $36 million in the settlement of lawsuit against opioid manufacturers in that state.
The firm handling Paterson’s case cited opioid prescription statistics from a database created as part of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. The database tracks prescription drug deliveries by zip code and the numbers for Paterson also cover several surrounding towns – Haledon, North Haledon, Hawthorne, Prospect Park and Totowa – according to the law firm.
City officials hired Scott+Scott on a contingency basis, meaning that Paterson will not have to pay any legal fees unless it gets some payments from the pharmaceutical companies.
“The human cost of the opioid crisis has been devastating to those addicted and their families and friends,” said Domenick Stampone, Paterson’s law director. “This lawsuit seeks to hold responsible those companies whose practices created a crisis that has drained the coffers of cities like Paterson, which operates on meager resources but is relied on to provide critical, life-saving services.”