Ninth Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson’s office has joined four other judicial districts to file a lawsuit against prescription opioid manufacturers.
The joint initiative was filed last month in Campbell County Circuit Court and takes aim at Purdue Pharma L.P. and related companies, as well as Mallinckrodt LLC, Endo Health Solutions Inc., and its wholly owned subsidiary, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.
Included in the lawsuit are the state’s sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th judicial district attorneys general offices.
“The intentional and illegal marketing (several individuals of these companies have already pled guilty) of prescription opioids has cost East Tennessee and the four counties of my district numerous lives and has led to innocent babies being born addicted to opioids that will require costly care and services the rest of their lives at taxpayer expense,” Johnson said in an email correspondence. “Our jails fill up with opioid addicts or people whose gateway to more serious opiates like heroin was prescribed opioids.”
As of Oct. 9, Loudon County Jail had 157 inmates, which is past its 91-inmate certification.
The lawsuit alleges manufacturers directed opioids to 15 East Tennessee counties of the five judicial districts listed, while “criminal defendants participated in the illegal opioid drug market through the same judicial districts along the Interstate 75 corridor.”
“The manufacturer defendants knew their products were being diverted to the illegal drug market, but did nothing to stop it — choosing profit over people,” a news release from the judicial district offices reads. “… Purdue’s efforts and those of the other defendants to mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and addictive nature of, opioid drugs led to an opioid epidemic, created an environment for thousands of individuals in Tennessee to become addicted to opioids, and fueled a dramatic increase in Campbell County, Tennessee, and other East Tennessee counties in the number of individuals exposed and addicted to OxyContin, Roxicodone, Opana ER and other opioids.”
Johnson said the goal is to halt “deceptive marketing” of prescription pain medication to an area the district offices believe was picked by “Big Pharma” with misleading claims about the medication being non-addictive.
Tennessee ranks second in the nation for the number of opioid prescriptions per capita, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2015, doctors wrote more than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions.
“If Loudon countians want to know why I have been pushing so hard for a new jail and treatment programs in and outside of the jail — this is it,” Johnson said. “This is why we have started a drug court in Roane County, expanded a drug court in Morgan County and experimented with a Veterans Court in Loudon County.”
Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider sees the damages opioids have done in the community on a near daily basis. He said his office supports Johnson’s efforts.
“I think it’s as bad as it has been,” Guider said. “Right now we had a opioid overdose fatality three nights ago … in Philadelphia. So I don’t see any improvement thus far.”