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Small Colorado County Sues Pharmaceutical Giants

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Huerfano County has one of the highest rates of prescription opioid related emergency department visits in the state.

Huerfano County in southern Colorado is suing a long list of the nation’s top pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuit claims residents of the county were led to believe opioids, like oxycodone and Percocet, were safe. Instead, the drugs were highly addictive and, in some cases, led to overdoses and deaths.

John Galusha, Huerfano County administrator, said the lawsuit aims to recoup some of the costs associated with responding to the opioid epidemic such as health care, law enforcement and social services. Galusha said about one in ten people – in the county of 6,700 – have been affected by opioids.

“Ten percent doesn’t seem like a lot but when you’re talking 600 people out of 6,700 people,” he said. “That’s probably a significant piece of our workforce.”

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on Jan. 28 by lawyers from California and Colorado. Huerfano County is seeking at least $750,000 in economic damages and $1.5 million in future damages.

Galusha said Colorado Springs-based Attorney Stephen Ochs approached the county commissioners a month ago to gauge their interest in pursuing legal action. 

“He showed that there was significant impact to our financial resources and the commissioners agreed and said they would participate,” he said.

Huerfano is the first county in Colorado to file a suit against pharmaceutical companies and distributors for their potential role in the opioid epidemic. Named businesses include Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, Johnson & Johnson and TEVA Pharmaceuticals USA. Many other cities and states including New York, Seattle and Ohio have filed similar lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry.



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