MetroHealth pursues legal action against opioid drug manufacturers, marketers

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The MetroHealth System wants to hold opioid drug manufacturers and marketers accountable for the increasing costs it will continue to incur as a result of the opioid epidemic.

The Cleveland-based health system is pursuing legal action in federal court against opioid drug manufacturers and marketers as part of multidistrict litigation. The action was filed Aug. 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division. The suit is filed against numerous companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma.

The system, which will pursue damages related to the opioid epidemic in Cuyahoga County, has taken on the public health crisis through a number of initiatives. MetroHealth is seeking "compensatory damages in an amount sufficient to compensate plaintiff for all its damages as proven at trial," as well as statutory damages, including punitive damages.

Last year, 727 people in Cuyahoga County died because of an opioid overdose, the most in the county's history, according to a news release from the health system.

In addition to the human toll, the epidemic has an associated cost. MetroHealth's litigation will assert that opioid manufacturers and marketers have "imposed a substantial burden on MetroHealth," and will attempt to hold them responsible, according to the release.

MetroHealth has experienced increased hospitalizations, longer patient stays for treatment of opioid addiction, escalating overdose rates, the coordination of prevention efforts in the community, increasing neonatal care for addicted newborns and maternal care for addicted mothers, according to the release.

Responding to the need, MetroHealth has launched and is working to expand a service for the family members negatively affected by the addiction of a family member.

Meanwhile, earlier this summer, MetroHealth announced its doctors and nurse practitioners prescribed 3 million fewer opioid pills in the past 18 months, reducing the number of opioid pills prescribed for acute pain by 62% and for chronic pain by 25%.

MetroHealth said it achieved the reduction through added training and its electronic medical record system, which now offers to add a Naloxone prescription to an opioid prescription — resulting in a 5,000% increase in Naloxone prescribing in the past three months.

The electronic medical record is also now set to alert prescribers to those who could be at risk of addiction and guide them toward alternative medications, lower dosages and other options for treatment. The system is opening a Pain & Healing Center to provide alternatives to the addictive medication that kills five people in the U.S. every hour. It brings together a range of therapies and specialists — acupuncture, infusion therapy, Reiki, pain management, neurology, psychology and psychiatry — to help patients manage pain without opioids.

It's part of the system's Office of Opioid Safety, which opened in 2017, and builds upon existing efforts, including Project DAWN, which distributes Naloxone kits throughout the county. The health system this summer also launched a podcast — "Prescription for Hope"— that focuses on the opioid crisis and how people within the health system are battling it.

"MetroHealth pursues legal action against opioid drug manufacturers, marketers" originally appeared in Crain's Cleveland Business.

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