CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three West Virginia cities have filed a class action lawsuit over how the nation’s leading health care certification service described the addictive power of opioids.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday against the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, which accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States.
The cities of Charleston, Huntington and Kenova are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that was filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia.
The cities claim the commission’s 2001 campaign to explain new pain management standards amounted to misinformation about the additive nature of opioids.
The campaign, the lawsuit says, included statements such as “Some clinicians have inaccurate and exaggerated concerns about addiction, tolerance and risk of death. This attitude prevails despite the fact that there is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control.”
The cities claim the commission stuck to its original position, even as evidence of an opioid epidemic sweeping the nation became clear. The lawsuit claims that the organization failed to prevent or curtail the opioid crisis.
“Defendants owed a duty of care to the municipalities, including but not limited to taking steps to promulgate reasonable health standards that would not lead directly to the misuse, abuse and over-prescription of opioids,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations unjustly benefited from funding by pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue. “These funds constitute blood money,” the lawsuit states. “Thousands have died and millions suffer because of defendants’ cooperation.”
The municipalities claim they have been damaged through the resulting addiction of citizens. The municipalities also say they have experienced increased healthcare, workers compensation and public safety costs.
The cities say they need significant additional resources, such as treatment centers, to fight addiction.
“This lawsuit is a critical move toward eliminating the source of opioid addiction and holding one of the most culpable parties responsible,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams stated in a release sent out by the City of Huntington.
“For too long, JCAHO has operated in concert with opioid producers to establish pain management guidelines that feature the use of opioids virtually without restriction. The JCAHO standards are based on bad science if they are based on any science at all.”