Evidence gathering is proceeding unimpeded in the lawsuit filed by state prosecutors against makers of prescription painkillers in an effort to forestall the regional opioid addiction epidemic.
A motion to stay discovery, filed by defendants in the regional opioid case, was denied Friday by Chancellor E.G. Moody in Sullivan County Chancery Court, clearing the way for the discovery process to move forward.
Drug producer defendants Purdue Pharma, L.P., Endo and Mallinckrodt, among others, had filed the motion in an attempt to block the plaintiffs, which include Northeast Tennessee’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Judicial District Attorneys General Tony Clark, Barry Staubus and Dan Armstrong, from viewing internal documents.
Armstrong, 3rd Judicial District attorney general, represents Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties.
At the hearing Friday, Moody ruled that full discovery should go forward and that information from the defendants, some of which is being shared in other cases throughout the country, should also be provided to plaintiffs in the “Sullivan Baby Doe” case. Staubus is district attorney general in Sullivan County, where the lawsuit was filed.
“We’re very pleased with (the) decision, which represents another positive step in stemming the relentless flow of opioids into Northeast Tennessee,” Gerard Stranch, managing partner of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, the Nashville law representing the district attorneys general, said in a news release.
The civil action was jointly filed by Staubus, Armstrong and Clark. A fourth plaintiff, Baby Doe, through his Guardian Ad Litem, was born addicted to opioids in 2015 at Holston Valley Regional Hospital. Staubus declared Sullivan County “ground zero” in the opioid epidemic, with devastating effects also felt in surrounding counties, including Greene.
During the hearing Friday, Stranch noted that since the case was filed on June 13, 78 babies have been born drug dependent in Northeast Tennessee. He said that 61 percent were born in Sullivan County.
The lawsuit demands judgment against the defendants for damages resulting from breaches of statutory and common law, seeks to award restitution to the plaintiffs, and an injunction to stop the flood of opioids to the region.
The lawsuit filed by state prosecutors against Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Purdue Pharma L.P., and other makers of prescription painkillers, was remanded in October back to state court. Defendants sought to have the case heard in federal court.
U.S. Chief District Judge Thomas A. Varlan’s October order setting the venue in Sullivan County Circuit Court is a victory for plaintiffs in the case, Armstrong said recently.
“Judge Varlan ruled to send it back to state court, which is where we wanted it, so we’re very pleased with that result,” he said.
Given the financial resources of the pharmaceutical company defendants, plaintiffs in the case have acknowledged the civil case may take years to settle.
In addition to Endo Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma, defendants characterized in the lawsuit as “related companies” include Mallinckrodt LLC.
The lawsuit states that OxyContin is Purdue’s best-selling opioid, increasing from national sales of $800 million in 2006 to between $2.47 and $2.99 billion annually.
Other governmental entities and states have similar lawsuits pending.
In 2016, there were 21 cases of autopsies of Greene County residents attributed to drug overdoses or listing drugs as a “significant factor” in the cause of death out of a total of 76 autopsies conducted. That identifies drugs as a direct or closely related factor in the death of more than 27 percent of those who had autopsies conducted.
The civil action was filed in Sullivan County Circuit Court on behalf of the lawsuit claims are victimized by “fraudulent market campaigns” that convince doctors that drugs like OxyContin are not highly addictive and a safe means of reducing pain.
For additional facts, resources and documentation surrounding the case from is issue from the perspective of the plaintiffs, visit www.sullivanbabydoe.com.