Five East Tennessee district attorneys general have jointly filed a lawsuit against a major prescription opioid manufacturer.
The DAG's of the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts filed the suit last Friday in Campbell County. Two additional plaintiffs are named in the suit, known collectively as Baby Doe by and through their Guardians Ad Litem.
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“The Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which includes the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts of Tennessee, is one of the hardest-hit areas in the opioid epidemic that is plaguing the nation,” says Jared Effler, district attorney general for Tennessee’s Eighth Judicial District. “The 15 counties within these five judicial districts border the Interstate 75 corridor, which has long been known as a major path of transportation for the illegal opioid market. Two of these counties — Campbell County and Claiborne County — have the third- and sixth-highest per capita opioid prescription rates for a U.S. county, respectively.
The targeted manufacturers are Purdue Pharma L.P. and its related companies, along with Mallinckrodt LLC, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. Additional defendants named in the filing include the (now-dissolved) Tennessee Pain Institute (TPI), two former TPI employees and a convicted drug dealer.
"What they did was they went to the doctors and said these are not addictive medications, these are medications appropriate for long-term pain. And study after study has shown us that neither of these things are, in fact, true," said Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen.
The counties included in the filing include Knox, Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Scott, Fentress, Morgan, Roane, Loudon, Meigs, McMinn, Monroe, Bradley and Polk counties.
"We need to step up and be leaders in this particular area because Tennessee does have the second highest per capita opioid prescription rate of any state in the country," Allen said.
Allen said the attorneys general are aiming for monetary damages. She said the money would help treat opioid abuse victims.
"We're trying to come up with ways to take the people that are actually addicted to these opiates and treat them, instead of housing them in our jails," Allen said.
She said 90 percent of the cases her office prosecutes are drug crime-related.
"Perhaps we can lower the crime rate across the board in addition to taking some of the sting out of the opioid problem," said Allen.
In June, DAG's in Tennessee's First, Second, and Third Districts filed a similar suit.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the manufacturers knew their products, including OxyContin, Roxicodone, Opana, and others were highly addictive, but that they mislead the public and doctors about the risks. It also claims the companies knew the drugs were being used and sold illegally, but did nothing to stop it.
They claim the companies actions led to an opioid epidemic.
The suit cites alarming statistics on the state of the opioid crisis in Tennessee:
- An analysis from The U.S. Department of Justice shows a steady rise in law enforcement seizures of oxycodone in the state's illegal drug market., from 1,069 dosage units seized in Tennessee in 2007 to 4,142 dosage seized in 2010.
- In 2015, Tennessee doctors wrote 7.8 million opioid prescriptions--- that's 1.18 for every state resident. That number places Tennessee second in the nation for the number of opioid prescriptions per capita.
- Unintentional overdose deaths, which now account for more premature deaths in Tennessee than automobile accidents, suicides or homicides, increased more than 400 percent from 1999 to 2015 (the last year for which overdose deaths have been calculated). Seventy-two percent of Tennessee’s overdose deaths in 2015 involved opioids.
“In addition to having a terrible effect on the lives of a disproportionate number of East Tennesseans, opioid addiction places an overwhelming strain on our region’s finances,” Effler says. “This has led to increased costs for each of our counties’ policing, health care, rehabilitation, housing and criminal justice systems. We believe there is a direct correlation between East Tennessee’s opioid epidemic and the actions of these opioid manufacturers, and it is our intent to hold them accountable for the damage they have inflicted upon our region.”
The opioid crisis in Tennessee has also created a secondary epidemic in the state of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), according to the suit. NAS is caused by mothers abusing opioids during their pregnancies, and causing the babies to suffer horrible drug withdrawal symptoms after birth.
According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the number of Tennessee babies born with NAS increased tenfold between 2000 and 2010. In 2016, 26 of every 1,000 East Tennessee babies were born with NAS.
The suit claims the number of babies born with NAS in the five judicial districts doubled from 2010 to 2011 at East Tennessee Children's Hospital in Knoxville. The cost for caring for these drug-dependent babies is roughly ten times more than babies born without NAS.
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 requests an injunction to stop the flood of opioids to the region.