FINDING HOPE: Boise files lawsuit against 20 drug makers over opioid crisis

Posted at 1:15 PM, Nov 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-08 20:27:20-05

After tragically losing his 19-year-old son Carter, Boisean Scott Fischer is left with questions.

"How does a kid who's a little league football player and soccer player, and loved to play baseball-- ya know, started duck hunting when he was 10 years old...he just loved the outdoors... how does a kid go from that to an opioid addiction?" said Fischer.

Carter died from an opioid overdose in September-- just a few months after graduating from Boise High School.

And now, through litigation, Boise City officials are playing their hand in fixing the opioid problem.

"The city of Boise will file in Federal District Court, here in Boise, a lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of opioids," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.

The suit seeks compensation from 20 pharmaceutical companies alongside dozens of other cities across the country.

The city of Boise makes three primary claims against opioid drug makers, including public nuisance, negligence, and RICO-- or the "Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations" act, which the city is stating the industry violated.

"We do believe that the industry conspired to violate FDA regulations in the controlled substance act," said Mayor Bieter.

Mayor Bieter also says pursuing litigation is "vital" for the next step in tackling this issue.

"We have seen far too many deaths from overdose, ya know-- from one or two, four-five years ago-- to over a hundred last year," he said.

And the faces that make up those numbers, Fischer says, may surprise you.

"It can happen to anyone," said Fischer.

And while Fischer supports the lawsuit, he says his first hope is to reduce stigma. Through his grief, he is working with national organizations like Shatterproof, which he says can provide education and funding for the Treasure Valley Partnership.

The suit, which will be filed today in the U.S. District Court in Idaho, seeks compensation from the drug makers for:
•Promoting opioids to treat chronic health issues while downplaying the risk of addiction 
•Deceiving doctors about health risks associated with opioid products and focusing sales efforts on doctors known to over-prescribe
•Failing to investigate and report suspicious opioid orders to law enforcement and take steps to prevent their products from being diverted onto the black market 

“The swath of destruction to lives and families caused by opioids cuts across all ages, races and economic levels,” Mayor Bieter said. “In all likelihood, you know someone struggling with opioid addiction -– a co-worker, a friend, a family member. It’s time we look to those profiting from this misfortune and hold them accountable for what they have caused.”

“The trends are troubling,” Mayor Bieter pointed out. In Boise alone, one opioid death was reported in 2013; in 2017 there were 110. Similar trends are being seen across the Treasure Valley and Idaho, officials said. 

The suit points out that opioid prescriptions in Idaho increased 41 percent between 2009 and 2015. 

Bieter made the announcement in a press conference. He was joined by Boise Police Chief William Bones, Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan and acting City Attorney Natalie Camacho Mendoza. 

He was also joined by Scott Fischer whose 19-year-old son, Carter, died of a heroin overdose in September just a few months after graduating from Boise High School. Carter became addicted to prescription opioids through secret recreational use with his friends.  

“My son, like too many other children in the Treasure Valley, fell victim to a drug that had become far too easy to find,” said Fischer. “Our children are dying from an epidemic that started in our own medicine cabinets. It’s time to fight back in every way possible.”

In the suit, the City of Boise makes three primary claims against opioid drug makers: 
•Public Nuisance - by allowing a dramatic oversupply to reach consumers both legally and illegally, the opioid industry has created a public nuisance that unreasonably interferes with public health and safety.
•Negligence – opioid manufacturers and distributors should have known that widespread addiction and abuse would result.
•RICO - the industry violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) by conspiring to violate FDA regulations and the Controlled Substances Act.

Officials said the suit is likely to be relocated to a national lawsuit pending in Cleveland, Ohio, known as the “multi-district litigation.” That lawsuit includes most of the American public entities that have filed similar cases. “Joining the national suit is the most efficient and cost-effective way to pursue the suit,:” said Boise City spokesman Mike Journee.

“This issue impacts every community in Idaho,” said Bieter. “I hope cities and counties all across the state join us in this suit so that we can use those resources to fight opioid use and protect our residents,” Mayor Bieter said. 

This July, Bieter joined other Treasure Valley elected officials to announce a valley-wide strategic plan for battling the opioid crisis in southwest Idaho. The planning effort is sponsored by the Treasure Valley Partnership, a coalition of mayors and commissioners from Ada, Canyon, and Owyhee counties, including fourteen cities in southwest Idaho, that work to collaborate on wide-ranging issues that impact the entire region.