SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- Dozens of California counties, including Marin County, have now filed litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors, saying they've created an epidemic across the state.
The cases are expected to be transferred to a federal court in Ohio, where hundreds of other public entities have already filed similar suits.
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Marin County filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, but the suit will be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio as part of an ongoing, nationwide multi-district opioids litigation, the Marin County Counsel's Office said.
The suit alleges the "Big Pharma" companies misled the public about the dangers of opioid addiction, causing sales and overdoses to soar, the County Counsel's Office said.
"When I was in medical school, we were taught that opioids are less than 1 percent addictive when used for pain. We're learning the hard way how wrong that it," said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis.
For more than 20 years, the drug companies aggressively marketed and falsely promoted liberal opioid prescribing, claiming there was no risk of addiction even when used long-term for chronic pain, according to the plaintiffs in the suit. "We've been doing a lot of work in trying to re-educate our physicians in safe prescribing practices," Willis said.
The nationwide cost associated with the opioid epidemic exceed $1 trillion, and an additional $500 billion in costs are projected by 2020, the County Counsel's Office said.
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Among the companies named in the suit is San Francisco-based pharmaceutical distributor McKesson. Company executives did not return our request for comment.
Legal analyst Steve Clark says the lawsuit sends a clear message.
"What these lawsuits are seeking is both monetary compensation to the counties that have had to expend money for people that are addicted to drugs or have been injured as a result of drug overdoses," said Clark.
Drug overdoses, most of them linked to opioids, were the leading cause of accidental deaths in Marin County for the past five years, and they far exceed deaths in motor vehicle accidents, according to county officials.
Between 2004 and 2013, the number of prescribed opioid painkillers, emergency room visits, admissions for painkiller addictions and overdoses of prescription medications doubled in Marin County, the County Counsel's Office said.
Marin County had more prescriptions for opioids than households in 2016, the County Counsel's Office said.
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Marin County Department of Health and Human Services co-founded RxSafe Marin, a grassroots coalition of community agencies and individuals, to eliminate prescription opioid abuse and deaths.
"This litigation is the next step in the County's ongoing leadership in combating the crisis," County Counsel Brian Washington said in a news release.
ABC7 News Reporter Chris Nguyen contributed to this report.
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