San Mateo sues management consulting company; alleges pushing opioid sales

Bay Area

FILE – This Aug. 29, 2018, file photo shows an arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York. The three biggest U.S. drug distribution companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson are on the verge of a $26 billion settlement covering thousands of lawsuits over the toll of opioids across the U.S., two people with knowledge of the plans told The Associated Press. The settlement involving AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson is expected this week. A $1 billion-plus deal involving the three distributors and the state of New York was planned for Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

SAN MATEO, Calif. (BCN) – San Mateo County has filed a lawsuit against McKinsey & Company, alleging that the consulting firm helped push opioid sales in the county.

Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, the law firm representing the county, alleges that McKinsey helped opioid manufacturers increase drug sales by serving as marketing advisor to companies like Purdue Pharma.

Purdue Pharma makes OxyContin, a prescription pain medication commonly involved in opioid overdose deaths.

The lawsuit also claims that McKinsey helped Purdue protect its public image and helped suppress negative press from the families of overdose victims.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2017 amid a rise in opioid-related overdose deaths. In 2019, more than 70 percent of drug overdose deaths nationwide involved an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In San Mateo County, the number of deaths from opioids has steadily increased in recent years. County data shows that in 2015, there were 60 drug-induced deaths, with about 20 directly tied to opioid use. Doctors wrote nearly 350,000 opioid prescriptions in the county that year.

In the next two years, the number of drug and opioid-related deaths increased countywide and county health officials estimate that thousands of residents are dependent on opioids.

Purdue Pharma has already faced scrutiny and pleaded guilty in 2020 to criminal charges related to its role in the opioid crisis.

The county’s complaint against McKinsey, dated Tuesday, states that “McKinsey knew of the dangers of opioids, and of Purdue’s misconduct, but nonetheless advised and encouraged Purdue to improperly market and sell OxyContin.”

Dealing with the epidemic has also cost the county millions of dollars for expenses related to drug treatment, emergency room visits, law enforcement and social services such as helping children whose parents are addicted to opioids.

San Mateo County Counsel John Beiers said, “This lawsuit is a continuation of our efforts to pursue the corporate bad actors who have caused the opioid epidemic.”

In 2018 and 2019, the county sued opioid distributors and manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, to recover the costs of addressing the opioid epidemic. These cases are pending in federal court in Ohio.

San Mateo County is the first California county to sue McKinsey for its alleged involvement in the opioid crisis. The county joins jurisdictions across the nation that have already filed similar lawsuits against McKinsey as part of a multi-district litigation, a group of about 50 lawsuits pending before Judge Charles Breyer in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Anne Marie Murphy, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, said that she expects more cases from other California counties to be filed this week.

In filing the lawsuit, the county hopes to recover the money spent dealing with the opioid epidemic and to eliminate the “hazard to public health and safety.”

Earlier this year, McKinsey entered into settlements with all 50 state attorneys general regarding their past work with opioid manufacturers.

A spokesperson for McKinsey & Company said Wednesday, “We will defend ourselves against cases relating to our past work for opioid manufacturers because that work was lawful and we deny any allegations to the contrary. The recent settlements with state attorneys general provided us an opportunity to be part of the solution to the opioid epidemic and contained no admission of wrongdoing or liability.”

They added: “We believe that the settlement we entered into with the states also resolves claims that may be brought by municipalities. The State Attorneys General are the chief law enforcement officers for their states and are in charge of managing investigations and settlements such as this one. Furthermore, the funds provided by this settlement will be used by the state governments to support communities throughout those states.”

McKinsey no longer advises clients on “any opioid-specific business and are continuing to support key stakeholders working to combat the crisis,” according to a statement published on its website in 2019.
The full complaint is available online here.

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