The fight against the opioid addiction moves to the courtroom as attorneys in East Tennessee work to stop the epidemic.
Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings, PLLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight district attorneys general across East Tennessee. The defendant is prescription opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P., its related companies, Mallinckrodt PLC, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Center Pointe Medical Clinic, LLC, and two convicted opioid dealers.
Gerard Stranch, managing partner at Branstetter, Stanch and Jennings, said the problem starts at the top with the pharmaceutical companies.
"They created an illegal drug market through their marketing scheme," Stranch said. "They knowingly participated in the illegal drug market, and as a result, there's been injury to the governmental entities involved."
In statements to NBC News, the companies said they are troubled by the opioid crisis and continue to make efforts to stop people from abusing their products.
Mallinckrodt Pharmaceutical said that it does not promote opioid products and intends to file a motion to dismiss the Tennessee cases. A spokesperson said the company has “deep sympathy for the mothers impacted by opioid addiction, and we empathize with the anguish and worry they have related to the impact of their disease on their babies.”
In a statement, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries told NBC News they are “committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines” and that they “comply closely with all relevant federal and state regulations.”
A spokesperson for Endo said the company does not comment on pending litigation, but noted that safety is a priority for them and that the company is balancing “supporting the needs of patients with chronic pain while preventing misuse.”
Purdue is also trying to strike that balance, according to a spokesperson. While it denies the allegations in the suits, the spokesperson said, Purdue is “dedicated to being part of the solution” and is making efforts to work with law enforcement and prevent the abuse of its products. The company also said that its painkiller OxyContin represents only 1.7 percent of opioids prescribed nationally, and 1.6 percent of opioid prescriptions in Tennessee.
Stranch said he hopes the outcome of the litigation results in recovering money for past and future damages for the state, counties and cities affected. He said he would also like to see changes in how the companies operate and market their drugs to ensure this epidemic does not continue.
There is no trial date set at this point, but Stranch believes action needs to be taken quickly.
"Every day that we delay is more people being exposed to these drugs, more harm within society," he said.
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