In 2014, our Office teamed up with the Orange County District Attorney (and later the Los Angeles County Counsel and Oakland City Attorney) to file the nation’s first government lawsuit against drug companies for their role in the opioid epidemic. On behalf of the People of the State of California, we sued five large manufacturers of prescription opioids like OxyContin. Our case argued that they falsely claimed opioids were safe and effective to treat chronic pain, and downplayed the risks of taking opioids long-term. The claims convinced millions of doctors and patients to use opioids. As many Americans know now, opioids are highly addictive painkillers that have caused a nationwide epidemic of abuse, overdose, and addiction. But when we filed our case in 2014, even the word “opioid” was not well-known. Over seven years of courtroom battles, we showed that local governments could take on the powerful opioid industry. By the time our case went to trial in 2021—the first in California, and only the second nationally to reach trial—thousands of other government cases had been filed, placing massive pressure on the industry.
Since our trial, some of the large drug companies and other players in the opioid industry have agreed to national settlements to resolve the cases filed against them. Through these settlements, the County will receive millions of dollars over the next few decades to fund programs and services like public education about opioids; widespread access to fast-acting treatment (Narcan) for opioid overdose; kits to help prevent fentanyl deaths; and addiction treatment services.
The County operates an Opioid Overdose Prevention Project that focuses on public education and providing connections to treatment and prevention resources.