By Bob Uphues
The village of Riverside is joining a growing number of communities in Illinois in a series of lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids and a former Riverside "pill mill" that dispensed hundreds of thousands of doses of the medications before it was forced to close in early 2017.
On Aug. 2, village trustees voted 6-0 as part of their omnibus agenda to retain the services of Edelson PC and join a class-action lawsuit seeking to recoup damages from the defendant companies and doctors for their roles in creating a nationwide opioid epidemic and the costs associated with combating it.
"Like a lot of other communities, we feel it's important to hold the people responsible for the opioid crisis accountable," said Village President Ben Sells in an interview after the vote. "It affects everyone. Our village as well."
In May, Edelson filed its first suit in Cook County Circuit Court, naming 11 municipalities, including Berwyn and River Forest, as plaintiffs. They followed up in July with a second, nearly identical lawsuit representing 13 more municipalities, including North Riverside, and one fire protection district.
Ari Scharg, a partner at Edelson PC, told the Landmark that Riverside will be a plaintiff, along with 10 or 12 more municipalities, in a third lawsuit that will be filed in Cook County Circuit Court within the next couple of weeks.
Edelson has chosen to file the cases in state court rather than consolidate their cases with a number being consolidated as part of a multidistrict litigation being handled in U.S. District Court in Ohio.
By specifying Riverside Pain Management, which operated in Riverside from 2013 to 2017 and whose doctors have had their medical licenses stripped from them by the state, Edelson's lawyers believe the cases will remain in state court.
On Aug. 2 the defendants in the Cook County cases removed the lawsuits to federal court, but Scharg said that because of the local nature of the suit, naming individual doctors and municipal code violations, he fully expects the cases to be remanded back to Cook County.
"It's a delay tactic, which is what we expect," Scharg said. "We're going to file a motion to remand as soon as possible."
The physician identified in the lawsuit are Dr. Joseph Giacchino, Dr. Paul Madison and Dr. William McMahon, who worked out of a nondescript office at 28 E. Burlington St. for four years before being forced to shut down by state regulators.
Giacchino had his medical license revoked in 2011 for improperly prescribing controlled substances and exchanging medications to female patients in exchange for sex. But, Giacchino was still an important part of the operation, serving as Riverside Pain Management's "administrator."
Meanwhile, he hired Madison and McMahon to meet with patients and prescribe medications by the thousands. McMahon's medical license was suspended by the state in October 2016 and a month later was made permanently inactive.
Madison, however, has been singled out in this lawsuit and in another lawsuit filed against drug company executives in Massachusetts as a particularly notorious prescriber of controlled substances, including fentanyl, a breakthrough pain drug developed for cancer patients that Madison allegedly prescribed routinely for those without cancer.
In addition, Madison is under a federal criminal indictment for insurance fraud, a case which is slated to go to trial later this year.
The state suspended Madison's medical license in November 2016, and it remains suspended today. In the Massachusetts case filed in U.S. District Court against executives of the firm Insys Therapeutics for, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, their parts in a "nationwide conspiracy to profit by using bribes and fraud to cause the illegal distribution of a Fentanyl spray intended for cancer patients experiencing breakthrough pain."
Madison is an unindicted co-conspirator in that case. He allegedly was paid $87,000 to participate in sham speaking events in exchange for aggressively prescribing the fentanyl spray. Madison reportedly accounted for 60 percent of all Insys' fentanyl spray prescriptions in Illinois.
In the 22 months prior to having his medical license stripped by the state, Madison allegedly prescribed about 1.6 million doses of controlled substances out of his office in Riverside.
"That was a factor," Sells said of the Riverside pain clinic doctors' inclusion in the lawsuit. "We felt it was important to take a stand given their involvement as defendants."