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URBANA — A Champaign law firm has filed suit on behalf of the state of Illinois and Champaign County against a handful of drug companies, asserting that they knew that the painkilling pharmaceuticals they manufactured misled "consumers and medical suppliers through misrepresentations or omissions regarding the appropriate uses, risks and safety of opioids."

The suit was filed last week in Champaign County Circuit Court by Ryan Bradley of the Champaign law firm Koester & Bradley, along with the New York firm Simmons Hanly Conroy and the St. Charles, Ill., firm Meyers & Flowers.

The Champaign County Board voted last month, 21-0, to have the county join with other Illinois municipalities that have hired law firms to pursue claims against drugmakers.

Named in the local lawsuit were the pharmaceutical companies Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceutcals, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen, Endo Health Solutions Inc., and Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster.

The three individuals are doctors who the suit said were "instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally and in Champaign County."

Specific to Champaign County, the lawsuit charges that the county had an opioid-related mortality rate of 8.6 per 100,000 in 2015.

"And although not aberrant when compared to many other Illinois counties, the aforementioned rate constitutes a 101.65 percent change in the death rate between 2010 and 2015," says the suit. "That figure, combined with longitudinal data that has been recorded by the Illinois Department of Public Health, further demarcates a trend in adverse outcomes that have resulted from the ongoing opioid crisis."

The suit also said that opioid-induced overdose deaths rose in the county every year between 2013 and 2015, although they dropped slightly in 2016.

In 2015, the suit said, "the county began a partnership with a local hospital that would provide the opioid overdose antidote, Noloxone, and the training that first responders would need to administer it. In 2012, the antidote was administered by paramedics 95 times, by 2016 it was used approximately 300."

The lawsuit alleges that the county has paid and continues to pay "millions of dollars for health care costs that stem from prescription opioid dependence created by defendants' deceptive marketing campaign."

The county is seeking, the suit said, "a judgment requiring all defendants to pay restitution, damages, including multipliers of damages, disgorgement, civil penalties, attorney's fees, costs and expenses, injunctive relief and any other relief to which the county may be entitled."

When Bradley appeared before the county board last month, he said the firms were "optimistic there will be a significant recovery at the end of the day for the county to get back some of the money that was lost. But we're also pushing for injunctive relief, where we want them to change what they're doing."

He said pharmaceutical companies should have to "step up and help with treatment on an ongoing basis."

Under the agreement between the law firms and the county, the lawyers will split 25 percent of the gross amount recovered on behalf of the county.

Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).