Milwaukee County has sued global consulting firm McKinsey and Co., accusing it engaging in a civil racketeering enterprise that drove the nation's opioids crisis.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified actual and triple damages for the government costs of addressing the widespread "adverse social outcomes" of the crisis, from health care to crime, to unemployment and child neglect.
"My view has always been, this is essential for the wellness of Milwaukee County," said Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun. "Our folks are dying faster than anywhere else in the state. The acuteness of impact in our county cannot be debated."
Other plaintiffs in the case include Waukesha County, Walworth County, the city of Kenosha, village of Pleasant Prairie and the Oneida Nation. Daun said the same group used the same outside law firm to sue manufacturers and distributors of opioids, a case that became part of consolidated litigation in Ohio that recently settled.
Other groups of local governments have filed dozens of similar lawsuits around the nation, which are being consolidated in federal court in northern California.
In the other cases, McKinsey has pointed to its $573 million settlement with all 50 states' attorneys generals over its role in the opioid crisis, but some political subdivisions dispute whether they are covered by the AGs' release of liability.
Wisconsin is already expected to receive $420 million as part of a settlement the Ohio multi-state litigation against one manufacturer and several distributors of opioids, and Daun said 70 percent of the money will come to local governments.
More money is headed to Wisconsin from a separate settlement in Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy case.
The 82-page complaint against McKinsey lays out details about how the company helped Purdue Pharma continue to push sales of its painkiller OxyContin after the company had pleaded guilty in 2007 to misleading marketing about the drug.
That year, Purdue earned $1 billion in sales of OxyContin. As part of the plea deal, sales would be subjected to a five-year "corporate integrity" agreement, that, at first, depressed sales.
But after a few years of McKinsey's advice about how to work around that agreement, OxyContin sales had tripled from 2007 levels by 2014, according to the lawsuit.
Some of the tactics, according to the lawsuit, included encouraging the Sackler family, which owned Purdue Pharma, to lobby Walgreens to sell more after McKinsey noticed Walgreens sales of OxyContin were dropping off, or to promote "opioid savings cards" in neighborhoods around Walgreens stores.
The suit also says it was McKinsey's idea to focus most of its marketing and sales energy on doctors who were already prescribing the most OxyContin. The consultants dubbed it, "Project Turbocharge," which t Purdue later changed to "Evolve to Excellence."
To make more time for Purdue sales staff to do that, McKinsey suggested by cutting sales agents' annual training about the products by a third — from 17.5 days to 11.5 days.
Because of McKinsey's success in helping Purdue Pharma increase sales of OxyContin, the suit says, the company was able to distribute more than $4 billion to the Sackler family between 2008 and 2016.
The suit says at the same time it was helping Purdue Pharma, McKinsey was also consulting with other players in the opioid industry. Collectively, they formed an "Opioid Marketing Enterprise" that relied on mail and wire fraud to mislead providers, patients and governments about the effectiveness and safety of the drugs, while knowing they were unsuited to long-term, chronic, non-acute, non-cancer pain.
Last year, Purdue Pharma again pleaded guilty to improper marketing of OxyContin, during the period 2010 to 2018. Its plea agreement does not name McKinsey, but only mentions "the consulting company."
On Dec. 5, 2020, McKinsey issued what the complaint calls a "mea culpa" regarding its work for Purdue Pharma. It says any suggestion it tried to promote illegal use of the drug and overdoses is wrong, but that McKinsey fell short of its own standards in not recognizing the broader context and implications of its work.
McKinsey stopped doing any opioid consulting world-wide in 2019, according to its statement.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee County sues McKinsey over role in opioid cases