This story, originally published by the Kingsport Times-News, appeared Nov. 2, 2017. Copyright 2017 Kingsport Times-News.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — The first local hearing in an opioid lawsuit filed this past June by area attorneys general will be heard in a Bristol courtroom this morning as they attempt to lift a protective order keeping evidence out of the hands of the plaintiffs.
In June, the three attorneys general representing Sullivan, Washington, Hawkins, Greene, Hamblen and Hancock counties filed a lawsuit seeking damages from opioid manufacturers and others accused of creating the region’s epic pill epidemic.
Friday morning Chancellor E.G. Moody will hear a motion filed on behalf of Barry Staubus, Dan Armstrong and Tony Clark seeking to lift a protective order filed by the opioid manufacturers that allows them to withhold discovery, or evidence sought by the plaintiffs, until there is a ruling on their motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Armstrong, who serves as attorney general for Hawkins, Greene, Hamblen and Hancock counties, told the Times-News Thursday that a major argument against allowing the protective order to continue is the fact that the opioid crisis continues to get worse.
In preparing for Friday’s hearing, Armstrong reviewed recent autopsy reports in his district.
Since the lawsuit was filed in June, in Hawkins County alone there have been 13 deaths that were either directly related to drug overdoses or the drugs were significant contributing factors in the death.
“They’re already providing this discovery in other lawsuits around the country, so it’s really not a burden on them to give us what we’ve asked for while we’re waiting for the motions to be heard,” Armstrong said Thursday. “The worst-case scenario is he will grant the motion that they don’t have to give us discovery. I don’t think that will happen. I think the law is in our favor, but you never know.”
As of yet there’s no date scheduled for the defendants’ motion to dismiss.
The lawsuit was filed against drug manufacturers Endo Health Solutions and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Mallinckrodt PLC, as well as three medical doctors (Elizabeth Ann Bowers Campbell, Pamela Moore and Abdelrahman Hassabu Mohamed); a medical clinic (Center Pointe Medical Clinic); and two individuals who “participated in the illegal drug market for opioids.”
It alleges that Purdue Pharma carried out a fraudulent campaign convincing physicians that OxyContin created minimal risk of addiction and that the manufacturers overemphasized to doctors and the public the need for opioid drugs, leading to an opioid epidemic
The lawsuit further alleges that the opioid epidemic will cause law enforcement, schools, hospitals, health insurance providers and taxpayers to bear the cost of the crisis for years to come.
The plaintiffs seek an unspecified amount of restitution and an injunction to stop “the flood of opioids” into the region.
On Thursday, there were 286 inmates in the Hawkins County Jail. Sheriff Ronnie Lawson estimates that drugs are at the root of approximately 88 percent of the crimes committed by those inmates.
HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen told the Times-News Thursday the pill problem in Hawkins County is “through the roof” and getting worse every day.
“Nearly all the crime that we deal with involves pills or the pill epidemic in some way,” Allen said. “Most DUIs aren’t from alcohol, they’re from narcotics. Most of thefts and robberies are committed by addicts. Domestic cases. Child neglect. If you dig deep enough, drug abuse is at the root of most of them.”
“Everybody, in their family, has got somebody hooked on pills, or they know somebody hooked on pills,” Allen said. “It’s the new normal. The pill epidemic is taking over families. The Department of Children’s Services is overrun with calls. We’re trying our best to fight it.”