This story, originally published by The Greeneville Sun, appeared Jan. 23, 2018. Copyright 2018 The Greeneville Sun.Legal action proceeds as the scope of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and other defendants who allegedly fuel the opioid addiction epidemic widens to include counties beyond East Tennessee.
East Tennessee district attorneys general who initiated a lawsuit in June 2017, including Dan Armstrong of the 3rd Judicial District that includes Greene County, were present Jan. 16 for a hearing in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Bristol.
Also at the hearing were lawyers representing several of the prescription opioid manufacturers named in the civil action, including Purdue Pharma L.P., Mallinckrodt LLC and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Chancellor E.G. Moody took under advisement four motions to dismiss, plus two separate motions to dismiss filed by other pharmaceutical companies.
Moody, chancellor for the 2nd District Chancery Court in Sullivan County, postposed a decision on the motions pending hearing of an additional motion to dismiss filed by the now-closed Center Pointe Medical Clinic, another defendant in the lawsuit filed by Armstrong and the district attorney generals of the 1st and 2nd judicial districts, Tony Clark and Barry Staubus.
The former Center Pointe Medical Clinic in Kingsport motion to dismiss will be a focus of a March 13 court hearing in Bristol before Moody, court officials said.Read the full report in its original form here, or continue reading the story below.
At the Jan. 16 hearing, Moody asked attorneys to furnish competing orders. He also directed the discovery process to continue in the complex case.
Plaintiffs were given the opportunity to amend the civil complaint before the March 13 hearing, court officials said.
The Nashville law firm of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings PLLC, represents Tennessee attorneys general in a growing number of lawsuits.
Armstrong said that Greene and the other three counties in his district are deeply impacted by the opioid epidemic. 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 means drugs were a direct or closely related factor in the death of more than 27 percent of all autopsies conducted. Figures for 2017 were not immediately available.
The June 2017 lawsuit was filed in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport on behalf of those it 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.
The lawsuit alleges Purdue Pharma L.P. and other manufacturers, Center Pointe and two private individuals convicted of pill sales all contribute to the opioid epidemic that Staubus said makes Sullivan and surrounding counties “ground zero” for the problem.
A fourth plaintiff, Baby Doe, through his Guardian AD Litem, was born addicted to opiates in 2015 at Holston Valley Regional Hospital.
Other governmental entities, including Greene County, have also filed lawsuits against pill manufacturers. More counties in Tennessee are also becoming involved, framing their complaints in a manner similar to the one filed in June 2017.
On Jan. 10, the district attorneys general of Tennessee’s 13th, 16th, 17th, 22nd and 31st judicial districts jointly filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Circuit Court in Crossville against the same prescription opioid makers.
Earlier in January, Tennessee’s 4th Judicial District that includes the counties of Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson and Sevier, joined the coalition of East Tennessee district attorneys general whose districts seek a remedy from the court to address the issue.
In September 2017, district attorneys general of Tennessee’s 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th judicial districts jointly filed a second lawsuit against Purdue Pharma L.P. and related companies, including Mallinckrodt LLC, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.
The civil action was filed in Campbell County Circuit Court in Jacksboro. The lawsuit also names two additional plaintiffs known collectively as Baby Doe by and through their Guardians Ad Litem. Additional defendants named in the filing include the now-dissolved Tennessee Pain Institute, two former TPI employees and a convicted drug dealer.
The recent lawsuits allege that the manufacturer defendants directed their opioids to Tennessee counties. They further allege that Purdue Pharma “embarked on a fraudulent campaign to convince physicians that OxyContin created minimal risk of addiction,” according to one of the filings.
It claims that as Purdue’s marketing efforts demonstrated success in the form of rapid increases in opioid prescriptions, Mallinckrodt, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and other opioid manufacturers joined Purdue “in its fraudulent scheme,” and that “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 (and) other East Tennessee counties in the number of individuals exposed and addicted to OxyContin, Roxicodone, Opana and other opioids.”
The lawsuit further alleges that the manufacturer defendants “knew their products were being diverted to the illegal drug market, but did nothing to stop it — choosing profit over people.”
“The opioid epidemic that is currently ravaging Tennessee, Appalachia and the entire nation did not appear overnight,” J. Gerard Stranch, IV of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, said in recent news release.
Unintentional overdose deaths now account for more premature deaths in Tennessee than automobile accidents, suicides or homicides and increased more than 400 percent from 1999 to 2015, the release states.
Seventy-two percent of Tennessee’s overdose deaths in 2015 involved opioids, the news release states.
After the June 2017 lawsuit was filed, Purdue Pharma issued a statement that emphasizes the manufacturer does “vigorously deny the allegations in the complaint, (but) we share public officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis, and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”
It adds that addiction and drug abuse “are multi-faceted problems that require multi-faceted solutions.”
“Pointing fingers will not solve the problem, nor will it help those who are suffering. We urge all stakeholders to seize the opportunity to work together so that collectively we can address this crisis,” the Purdue Pharma statement concludes.
The most recent lawsuit raises the number of judicial districts participating in related lawsuits to at least 13.