The city of Portland is suing drug manufacturers over the impact that prescription drugs have had on the opioid-abuse epidemic.

Portland officials filed the suit in Cumberland County Superior Court on Thursday afternoon, seeking damages for harm that drug abuse has done. The Portland City Council unanimously agreed last fall to file the suit, after other cities had done so.

The suit alleges that 20 drug manufacturers and five doctors who prescribed opioid painkillers knew the drugs were effective for short-term use but that opioids are addictive and subject to misuse, particularly when used for long-term pain relief.

“This case is about one thing: greed,” the complaint said in its opening line. “Defendants put their desire for profits above the health and well-being of the city of Portland’s residents.”

The abuse of prescription opioids has been blamed for an increase in abuse of heroin and other street opiates. As a result of the opioid epidemic, the suit alleges, the city has had to spend “exorbitant amount of money” on treatment, law enforcement and other programs related to opioid use.

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, which represents pharmaceutical distributors, including some named in the lawsuit, said the crisis requires a collaborative response, not legal action.

“Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated,” John Parker, senior vice president of the association, said in a release issued Friday morning. “Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

But the city’s suit alleges that the drug companies knew, or should have known, “that with prolonged use, the effectiveness of opioids wanes, requiring increases in doses and markedly increasing the risk of significant side effects and addiction” At certain dosages, the 262-page suit said, opioids “can slow the user’s breathing, causing respiratory depression and, ultimately, death.”

The lawsuit also said the drug companies used “deceptive and unfair” marketing practices to encourage the use of opioids for longer periods and to treat chronic pain.

The suit will be handled by local lawyers along with attorneys from the Napoli Shkolnik firm of New York City, which is representing other cities that have filed similar suits across the country.

Portland officials also said the suit is being handled on a contingency basis, meaning there will be no cost to the city. The lawyers will take a percentage of the damages if the suit against the drug manufacturers is successful.

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. April 6 to include comment from the pharmaceutical industry distributors association, and to correct the spelling of the law firm.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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