This story, originally published by the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, appeared Jan. 18, 2018. Copyright 2018 Shelbyville Times-Gazette.
LEWISBURG — The war on opioid addiction took another step forward last Wednesday, and Marshall County found itself on the front line.
District Attorney General Robert Carter, along with four other Tennessee district attorneys, filed a civil suit targeting area “pill mills” and leading opioid manufacturers.
The suit, filed in Cumberland County Circuit Court in Crossville, names three individuals, the clinics that they operate, and the companies producing the drugs.
According to the complaint, Marshall County, in 2016, had 1,588 opioid prescriptions written for every 1,000 residents, the highest in the district.
Opioids were directly related to 10 deaths in the county for 2016, compared to four in 2015, according to Tennessee Department of Health data.
Carter’s 17th Judicial District covers Marshall, Bedford, Lincoln, and Moore Counties.
Mark Murphy, whose address is on Mooresville Highway in Marshall County, is singled out, along with two clinics he owns, operating out of the same address on Cornersville Highway in Lewisburg.
Until December 2016, Murphy also owned two clinics in Decatur and Madison, Alabama.
According to the complaint, Murphy closed those locations and did not renew his license to practice medicine in Alabama in order to avoid charges from the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners, detailing “unprofessional conduct,” distribution…of controlled substances…for any reason other than a legitimate medical purpose,” and “being unable to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients.”
The Alabama Board noted that Murphy ranked fifth in the state for the number of prescriptions written for controlled substances.
The independent, investigative news site, Propublica, compiled publicly available data regarding prescriptions written for Medicare Part D patients.
For 2015, their data found that Murphy was the number one prescriber in the nation, for Medicare Part D patients, of oxycodone hydrocholoride and Oxycontin. He ranked in the top 25, nationally, for prescriptions of three other opioids.
Murphy is listed as the medical director for two clinics in Lewisburg named in the suit, Montclair Health and Wellness, which does business as Specialty Associates, and North Alabama Pain Services.
The two clinics share the same address at 710 Cornersville Road.
The filing asserts that the location “participates in the illegal drug market for opioids.”
Another individual named in the suit is David Florence, a resident of Coffee County, who “has a long history of diverting opioids into the illegal market through his involvement with pill mills.”
Florence is listed as the medical director for the Lynnville Family Medical Clinic with a location in Giles County and a recently opened location on 2nd Avenue South in Lewisburg.
According to the complaint, he has a history of involvement with several clinics described as pill mills across Middle Tennessee.
A compliant filed in August 2016 in the 13th Judicial District alleged that Florence had visited a Cookeville pain clinic only one time when he was listed as the owner of the clinic, seeing 70 patients and signing off on more than 1,000 patient charts during the one visit.
The suit also names Perdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycodone, its subsidiaries, and several other opioid manufacturers as defendants.
The suit details years of deceptive marketing and fraudulent claims regarding potential for addictiveness of opioids on the part of these companies contributing to the flood of opioids into the region.
The suit also alleges that the drug manufacturers turned a blind eye to unreasonably high numbers of prescriptions in the interest of maintaining sales and profits.
Tennessee ranked second in the nation for per capita opioid prescriptions with 1.18 prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in the state in 2015. During the same year, California, for example, only had .48 prescriptions per capita.
The suit asks that the defendants be recognized as a public nuisance and that damages be awarded under the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act.
According to the act, civil damages can be awarded for economic losses caused by medical expenses or treatment and rehabilitation costs, among other lost financial opportunity, as well as the “structural costs” incurred, including increased healthcare costs, additional law enforcement expense or additional incarceration costs caused by the illegal drug activity.
The suit seeks restitution for these expenses as well as a permanent injunction against each of the defendant’s claimed flood of illegal opioids into the impacted districts.
This is the third similar case filed by Tennessee District Attorneys within the last 12 months aimed at combating an epidemic of opioid abuse across the state.
Fourteen District Attorneys General, representing 47 counties, have joined in similar lawsuits.