A federal judge in Seattle is deciding whether to allow Everett's suit against Purdue Pharma to continue.
The suit involves accusations that Purdue knew its highly addictive painkiller Oxycontin was making its way to specific clinics and dealers in Everett but didn't do anything about it. The implication is that the company made huge sums of money while allowing people to get hooked on their painkiller.
"They knew where the drugs would end up," said Chris Huck, attorney for the city. "They ended up in an organized drug ring."
In court Monday, Huck said he has direct evidence -- emails from Purdue -- acknowledging Purdue's pills were being funneled to at least one shady clinic in Everett, and those drugs were then sold on the streets.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said Purdue needs to be held accountable.
"We determined that Purdue was aware their product was going into the black market, had an obligation to report and didn't," said Stephanson. "This has had a severe impact on our city."
Attorneys for Purdue refused requests for an interview.
In court, they testified there are a lot of steps that happen between the company providing legal pharmaceuticals to a legal wholesaler and the drugs then making their way into an addicts bloodstream in Everett. They argued the company cannot be held responsible for that totality.
The City of Tacoma recently filed a similar suit against Purdue.
“I think the drug companies need to be held accountable,” said former addict Jennette Cavalier, explaining there is blame to go around.
The now social worker describes herself as former a soccer mom when she became addicted to prescription drugs, including OxyContin, after a car accident in 1999.
“I was in a ton of pain and the doctor said because I had 13 years clean and sober, she believed that I could take morphine and OxyContin safely or as prescribed – and I couldn’t,” Cavalier said, explaining she was addicted to methamphetamine, alcohol, cocaine and prescription drugs as a teenager as well.
“I lost everything. I lost houses and cars. I lost my husband and eventually I lost my kids before I got clean,” she said.
In November, she will be 10 years sober after working with Narcotics Anonymous, but says “there are a lot of people out there who are addicted today who are not able to get clean.”
Civil litigator Mike Hunsinger says legal minds are coming up with creative ways to deal with the opioid epidemic, much like they did three decades ago when several states went after tobacco companies.
“These are the opening skirmishes,” Hunsinger said. “Whoever wins these first rounds of dismissal motions, then that’s ultimately probably how the litigation will go. If enough courts deny the motions to dismiss, then there’s going to be a feeding frenzy.”
Hunsinger says companies such as Purdue would rather not undergo the discovery process, in which they can be subpoenaed for hundreds of thousands of documents and depose witnesses, should the case move forward.
It will be several weeks, possibly longer, before US Judge Ricardo Martinez announces his decision as to whether the suit can continue.
Mayor Stephanson said if the city eventually prevails, any money won would be put toward treatment centers and other efforts to dealing with the current epidemic.
"We want Purdue to be part of the solution moving forward," he said.