City of Sacramento fights to protect California’s seniors and others victimized by the opioid epidemic

The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities across the U.S., and Sacramento is no exception. As opioid manufacturers and distributors were generating enormous profits, Sacramentans — and senior citizens throughout California — were dying, leaving families to mourn the loss of loved ones who fell victim to addiction and accidental overdoses from the powerful narcotics.

While younger people often have been viewed as the face of the opioid crisis, the epidemic also has had a devastating effect on California’s senior citizens. In California, seniors die at a higher rate from prescription opioids than younger people. California seniors 65 and older represent the most likely age group to be admitted to a hospital for treatment of an opioid overdose.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), “the sheer magnitude of opioid use among older adults – coupled with the dangerous nature of this class of drugs – increases risk for abuse, addiction, and overuse.”

Both the California Legislature and Judiciary have declared that it is the public policy of the state to protect seniors because of their susceptibility to abuse. However, as the statistics show, far too many of them have fallen victim to the opioid epidemic.

The City of Sacramento previously filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court seeking to hold several of the most notorious opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for their actions. In a specific effort to vigorously protect senior citizens, all of the City’s claims were brought pursuant to California state laws to ensure that the case would be litigated in local superior court. This would allow the City to invoke a California state law that exists to protect the rights of senior citizens by specifically providing for expedited trials.

Notably, based upon a landmark ruling last year by the California Supreme Court, the scope of this lawsuit includes advertising and marketing practices targeting seniors throughout the state of California.

“One of the claims in our lawsuit addresses the false advertising and marketing practices of these defendants, which specifically targeted senior citizens with the goal of increasing opioid consumption among this highly vulnerable population,” Sacramento City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said.

“The corporate defendants in our lawsuit who manufactured and distributed opioids were explicitly told that we intended to invoke California law to seek an expedited trial to protect the state’s senior citizens,” Alcala Wood continued. “Yet, in disregard for the welfare of our seniors, these defendants engaged in a series of improper procedural tactics expressly designed to delay resolution of this important case. As a result of their legal gamesmanship, our lawsuit has now been delayed and is currently pending before a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, as opposed to Sacramento County Superior Court, where it belongs and should proceed on an expedited basis.”

Despite their obvious role in fueling the opioid crisis, many of these corporate defendants have engaged in public relations campaigns to minimize their responsibility. For example:

  • The Board of Directors at Walgreens Boots Alliance previously issued a 13-page report addressing its oversight of opioid related risks, in which the company proclaims that “the Board cares deeply about the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on our communities” and “the Company can have a significant impact on this issue.” Yet, Walgreens was the ringleader whose litigation conduct has prevented this case from proceeding to trial on an expedited basis.
  • Johnson and Johnson regularly promotes the company’s “Credo,” which represents its “recipe for business success.” According to the Credo: “We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well.”
  • McKesson, the country’s largest drug distributor, regularly promotes its ICARE shared business principles, which include the philosophy that the company’s common goal is “to advance the health care system for better health for all” and that employees “make decisions, both big and small, with a focus on what is ethically right.” With specific reference to the opioid epidemic, the company proclaims that “we are committed to engaging with all who share our dedication and are acting with urgency to address this national crisis.”

In reality, all of the named defendants have acted in a reprehensible manner motivated by greed and profit, Alcala Wood said. They have jeopardized the health, welfare and safety of our communities and our senior citizens throughout California.

In addition, these actions also have led to many people becoming homeless and living on city streets. “The relationship between opioids and homelessness is well documented and has severely impacted the quality of life for too many of our residents,” said Councilmember Jeff Harris.

The death toll from the opioid epidemic is staggering. From 1999 to 2018, more than 232,000 people died in the United States from overdoses involving to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These numbers continue to rise, with the California Department of Public Health reporting 3,244 deaths related to opioid overdose in 2019 alone.