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Snohomish County to sue drug makers over opioid epidemic

EVERETT, Wash. -- The Snohomish County Council has voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and other drug makers over their role in the opioid epidemic.

Several cities and counties across Washington have already launched similar lawsuits against Purdue, the company behind oxycontin.

The lawsuit claims the company recklessly oversold the drugs and failed to properly warn doctors about how addictive opioids could be.

The Snohomish County sheriff says one out of every three inmates booked into the county jail has an opioid addiction and has to be watched for signs of withdrawal.

Purdue denies accusations

Purdue has denied the allegations in the lawsuits, telling CNN that they "...irresponsibly and counterproductively cast every prescription of OxyContin as dangerous and illegitimate, substituting its lawyers' sensational allegations for the expert scientific determinations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and completely ignoring the millions of patients who are prescribed Purdue Pharma's medicines for the management of their severe chronic pain."

The statement also notes that OxyContin represents a small percentage of opioid pain drugs, and says the focus should be on solving the "complex public health crisis" caused by opioids.

"In April 2010, FDA approved a reformulated version OxyContin, which Purdue developed with properties intended to deter abuse. Purdue worked for over a decade to develop the new formulation, and it was the first FDA-approved opioid with abuse deterrent properties," the statement says.

As reported by CNN last year, Purdue said it will stop promoting OxyContin to doctors, and said it would reduce its sales force by half at the beginning of 2018.

Oxycontin and the opioid crisis

Opioids are a class of pharmaceuticals that include prescription painkillers like OxyContin as well as illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Opioids are at the root of an ongoing public health crisis in America.

In 2017, there were 47,600 opioid-linked drug fatalities in the United States -- more than the number of deaths linked to breast cancer -- according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The opioid crisis has raised significant concern about prescription painkillers. Between 1999 and 2009, overdoses from such drugs rose about 13% annually, though the increase has since slowed to 3% per year.

Sales of OxyContin, which is a long-acting version of the drug oxycodone that was designed to deliver medicine over 12 hours, grew rapidly after it hit the market in 1996.

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