A group of Phoenix leaders wants the city to follow a nationwide trend and take legal action against pharmaceutical companies that they believe are responsible for the nation's opioid epidemic.
Mayor Greg Stanton and councilwomen Thelda Williams and Debra Stark sent a letter to City Manager Ed Zuercher on Tuesday detailing how the opioid crisis has "created an incredible strain" on the city's public safety personnel.
Stanton, Williams and Stark blame the rapid increase in opioid-related deaths across the country on pharmaceutical manufactures and distributors that launched a "fraudulent marketing campaign that minimized the risks of opioids."
"Pharmaceutical companies are making billions while people suffer and families are torn apart, while governments shoulder the burden at every level," the letter states.
The full council will vote on whether to take legal action against these companies at a formal meeting next week. If approved, Phoenix will join several other cities, like Chicago and Indianapolis, taking on massive drug companies in court.
More than 500 Arizonans have died a suspected opioid-related death since June 15, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
In June, Gov. Doug Ducey declared the opioid epidemic a public-health emergency and last month President Donald Trump made a similar declaration for the entire country.
In their letter, Stanton, Williams and Stark detail some of the costs the city bears because of the opioid crisis: All fire department vehicles carry naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. Police detectives devote additional time to drug calls. Jail costs and homelessness are on the rise.
"Make no mistake: These examples barely scratch the surface of how our community has been affected," the letter states.
The mayor and council members suggested that any proceeds secured through the lawsuit be used to equip first responders with tools to respond to the opioid crisis and help addicts. They did not specify which pharmaceutical companies would be targeted in the lawsuit or how much they would seek in damages.
“These companies have put huge profits before telling the truth, and their behavior is directly responsible for stunning rises in opioid addiction that destroys lives, tears apart families and burdens taxpayers at every level,” Stanton said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an association that represents biopharmaceutical research companies, would not comment on potential litigation.
In September, PhRMA president and CEO Stephen J. Ubl announced the group would support policies limiting the opioid prescriptions to seven days for acute pain treatment.
“Appropriate script limits, when combined with improved prescriber education and better coverage of treatment alternatives, can help ensure proper prescribing and reduce the risk of abuse. Given the scope and scale of this crisis, we believe this is the right thing to do," Ubl said in a statement.
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