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CHEYENNE – Green River is the latest city in Wyoming to file a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers for their part in the addiction crisis that has spread across the country.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court by Green River against Purdue Pharma, Johnson and Johnson, and a long list of other pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioid-based medications. The western Wyoming city is seeking $10 million in damages from the companies for their efforts to downplay “the serious risk of addiction” from opioid-based medications, according to the lawsuit.

Requests for comment from legal representation for Green River and city officials were not returned by press time.

The suit alleges the deceptive practices of Purdue, Johnson and Johnson and the other manufacturers “led to a public health crisis in the City of Green River, Wyoming, which faces skyrocketing opioid addiction and opioid-related overdoses and deaths, as well as devastating social and economic consequences.”

Because of the increase in opioid addiction and the resulting strain on social services, law enforcement and other government sources, Green River is seeking damages to help compensate the city for those costs.

“Tax dollars are required to maintain public safety of places where the addicted homeless attempt to congregate, including city parks, schools and public lands,” the lawsuit reads. “Tax dollars are required to fight the injections disease brought by the addicted and particularly the addicted homeless.”

The suit mentions “Hepatitis B and C, HIV, sexually transmitted disease and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have been demonstrated to be spread by opioid abuse.”

Green River joins thousands of local and state governments across the country that have sued opioid manufacturers. Cheyenne filed its own lawsuit in March, and Sweetwater County filed a similar suit in January.

Sweetwater County’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Wyoming, but was later moved to U.S. District Court in Ohio, where it was combined with a large group of similar lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies.

Green River is being represented by Rock Springs attorney Charles Barnum and Casper attorney Rick Koehmstedt, both of whom also represent Sweetwater in their suit.

Wyoming’s own suit was filed in late 2018 by the state Attorney General’s Office. As part of its claim of consumer fraud, the suit alleges Purdue invested heavily to counter doctors’ resistance to using opioid medicines. Through multiple on-site visits by sales representatives, paying doctors seven figures to extol the virtues of OxyContin, and secretly backing financially multiple pain advocacy groups to push for expanded opioid prescriptions, Purdue was able to push OxyContin sales nationally from $48 million in 1996 to more than $1 billion by 2000, according to the lawsuit.

According to the state’s lawsuit, Wyoming has paid millions in dealing with opioid addiction. The lawsuit claims the state paid $2.29 million in additional Medicaid claims to treat opioid-related addiction from 2008-2017.

“The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office has been working with over 40 states to understand how America’s opioid crisis developed,” said Wyoming’s chief deputy attorney general, John Knepper, after the state filed suit in 2018. “This investigation continues, but sufficient evidence exists for Wyoming to move forward now with a lawsuit alleging that Purdue Pharma has violated Wyoming’s Consumer Protection Act.”

Ramsey Scott is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3124 or rscott@wyomingnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RamseyWyoming.

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