By Bob Uphues
Members of the North Riverside Village Board voted on May 21 to join about a dozen other municipalities in suing more than 20 pharmaceutical companies and their subsidiaries, drug distribution companies and three doctors who formerly ran an alleged opioid "pill mill" out of a now-shuttered pain clinic in Riverside.
The 163-page, eight-count lawsuit filed May 23 in the Chancery Division of Cook County Circuit Court, asks the court to award monetary damages to the municipal plaintiffs, including "treble and punitive damages," as a result of the drug firms' and doctors' "civil conspiracy" to create an opioid epidemic through negligence, deceptive marketing and fraud.
North Riverside and the other municipalities are being represented by Chicago-based Edelson PC, a law firm which, according to its website, is one of three "leading a coordinated multi-state opioid litigation coalition."
According to Ari Scharg, a partner at Edelson PC, the firm plans to file many more cases in state courts in the coming weeks.
"We really commend the mayors for working with each other cooperatively throughout the state to put a stop to this crisis," Scharg said. "We are very much looking forward to presenting this case to a jury."
While most of the cases brought against drug manufacturers and distributors likely will be consolidated in a federal multidistrict litigation action being handled in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, this latest suit is different in that it specifically identifies individual local doctors as defendants, providing a way to prevent the suit from being consolidated in the multidistrict litigation in Cleveland.
"Our clients want to maintain control over their litigation," Scharg said.
According to the lawsuit, there have been more than 351,000 opioid-related deaths since 1999 and that opioids account for more than 60 percent of drug overdoses in the nation.
While there are individual people whose lives and whose families' lives are impacted by opioid abuse, villages, towns and cities across the country also a pay price, said Scharg, in terms of fire, police and hospital costs as well as the cost for rehabilitation.
"It does affect individual people, but it also affects the communities taking care of those people," Scharg said. "[The lawsuit] is also about stopping this crisis and the flow of pills into these neighborhoods."
Among those being sued are pharmaceutical giants Purdue Pharma, Cephalon Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Insys Therapeutics, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan and Mallinckrodt and distributors AmerisourceBergen Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corporation.
But the lawsuit also zeroes in on a pain clinic formerly located in both Melrose Park and Riverside, which was run Dr. Joseph Giacchino, whose medical license was revoked by the state of Illinois in 2011 for improperly prescribing controlled substances and providing medications to female patients in exchange for sex.
The pain clinic operated for many years out of an office inside a shopping center on North Avenue in Melrose Park. In 2013, Giacchino moved the clinic to an office at 28 E. Burlington St. in downtown Riverside.
Scharg called the pain clinic "one of the biggest pill mills in the country."
Stripped of his medical license, Giacchino claimed to be the "administrator" of the clinic. Prescribing pain medications to patients were a pair of doctors, Paul C. Madison and William McMahon.
The state suspended McMahon's medical license in October 2016 for prescribing controlled substances for non-therapeutic purposes. A month later McMahon's status as a physician was made permanently inactive.
Madison had his medical license suspended in November 2016 for "unprofessional conduct" and improperly prescribing controlled substances. It remains suspended.
In addition to that disciplinary action, Madison is under a federal criminal indictment for insurance fraud.
In 2012, the U.S Attorney's Office charged Madison with submitting more than $3 million in false medical bills to 10 insurance companies and a federal workers compensation program.
That case is still pending in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Madison is also named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal criminal case filed in December 2016 in Massachusetts against top executives at Insys Therapeutics, one of the defendant companies in the most recent Cook County lawsuit.
The Cook County lawsuit summarizes Madison's dealings with Insys, which ranged from arranging "sham speaking engagements" to promoting a fentanyl spray that was created to provide breakthrough pain relief for cancer patients.
Madison himself, the lawsuit states, was an anesthesiologist until 2016 but billed himself as a "pain management specialist." Most of his patients, however, were suffering from chronic non-cancer pain.
Madison's speaking engagements, according to the lawsuit, largely were attended by Insys sales representatives or "occasionally" by doctors who were not cancer treatment specialists.
He allegedly was paid $87,000 by Insys which, according to the lawsuit, saw him as a "go-to physician." Madison until 2016 was the top prescriber of the company's fentanyl spray in Illinois, accounting for almost 60 percent of all of Insys' fentanyl spray prescriptions in the state.
But, Madison didn't confine his prescriptions to Illinoisans. In the state's petition to suspend Madison's medical license in 2016, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's top prosecutor stated that Madison's opioid prescriptions were dispensed to patients in 11 states and that between Jan. 1, 2015 and Oct. 11, 2016 he had prescribed roughly 1.6 million doses of controlled substances.
The pain clinic, known as Riverside Pain Management, closed its doors in Riverside in 2017.