GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — Twenty-six hospitals in Tennessee and seven hospitals in southwest Virginia filed a civil lawsuit in Greene County Circuit Court against the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioid-based drugs.
The Tennessee and Virginia hospitals said they have received little or no reimbursement for the care and investments they have made as opioid addiction reaches epidemic levels.
The complaint alleges defendants engaged in making false assurances about the addiction risks associated with opioid products and used other deceptive marketing tactics to persuade physicians and health care providers to broaden prescribing patterns for decades. The result has been widespread addiction, suffering, and loss of life in communities across Tennessee, Virginia and the nation, with hospitals bearing the financial burden of care and treatment for the victims, according to a release from the representing attorney.
Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental death in Tennessee. From 2012-2017, the most recent period for which data is available, Tennessee experienced record numbers of deaths from opioid use each year, with 1,186 in 2016 and 1,268 in 2017.
Though Tennessee hospitals and physicians have successfully begun reducing the number of opioid prescriptions written each year, the opioid epidemic continues to rage with fentanyl-related deaths increasing 70% in 2017.
A 2019 study by economists at the University of Tennessee found that providers in Tennessee write 1.4 prescriptions each year for every man, woman and child in the state.
“The negligent marketing efforts and deceptive narratives used by the defendants substantially contributed to an explosion in the use of opioids across the country – and the effects continue to be felt in hospitals every day,” said Gary Brewer, an attorney with Brewer & Terry P.C., in Morristown, representing the hospitals. “Hospitals continue to provide heroic levels of care to opioid-addicted patients and have saved countless lives. But the financial, operational and emotional expense for hospitals, especially struggling rural hospitals, is astonishing. The defendants bear tremendous responsibility for the crisis they created.”
Industry analysts estimate the country’s healthcare system incurred more than $215.7 billion in costs related to the opioid crisis from 2001 to 2017, largely attributable to overdose-related emergency department visits. In fact, across the nation, nonfatal opioid overdoses that require medical care in a hospital or emergency room have increased by a factor of six in the past 15 years.
The hospitals’ complaint alleges negligence, fraud and civil conspiracy by the defendants, which include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories and more than 40 other companies and individuals involved in the manufacturing, distribution, and sales of prescription opioids.
“No party is better positioned to lead us out of this public health crisis than hospitals, but effective treatment of such patients requires tremendous resources,” said Don Barrett, an attorney with Barrett Law Group who will serve as additional counsel for plaintiffs. “Hospitals have experienced significant, measurable damages and must be active participants in any opioid settlement discussions."
Last month, the American Hospital Association urged a judge hearing one of the opioid cases “to ensure that needed funds are directed to the hospitals and health systems that are on the forefront of caring for the victims of this epidemic. With additional resources, hospitals can broaden access to post-overdose treatment in emergency departments, increase training of physicians to treat substance use disorders, cover the costs of lengthy stays and follow-up care for infants with neonatal abstinence disorder, and invest in electronic health information systems to improve coordinated care and prevent overprescribing.”
The Tennessee and Virginia hospitals are among hundreds of other hospitals across the country that have filed similar suits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The hospitals filing suit include:
- Bristol Regional Medical Center
- Dickenson Community Hospital, Clintwood, Va.
- Franklin Woods Community Hospital, Johnson City
- Greeneville Community Hospital, Greeneville
- Hancock County Hospital, Sneedville
- Hawkins County Community Hospital, Rogersville
- Henderson Community Hospital, Lexington
- Holston Valley Medical Center, Kingsport
- Indian Path Community Hospital, Kingsport
- Johnson City Medical Center, Johnson City
- Johnson County Community Hospital, Mountain City
- Johnston Memorial Hospital, Abingdon, Va.
- Lonesome Pine Hospital, Big Stone Gap, Va.
- Mountain View Medical Center, Norton, Va.
- Norton Community Hospital, Norton, Va.
- Niswonger Children’s Hospital, Johnson City
- Russell County Hospital, Lebanon, Va.
- Saint Francis Hospital, Bartlett
- Saint Francis Hospital, Memphis
- Smyth County Community Hospital, Marion, Va.
- St. Thomas Hospital for Specialty Surgery, Nashville
- Sycamore Shoals Hospital, Elizabethton
- Tennova Healthcare-Clarksville
- Tennova Healthcare-Cleveland
- Tennova Healthcare-Harton, Tullahoma
- Tennova Healthcare, Jefferson Memorial Hospital, Jefferson City
- Tennova Healthcare, LaFollette Medical Center, LaFollette
- Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon
- Tennova Healthcare, Newport Medical Center, Newport
- Tennova Healthcare-North Knoxville and Turkey Creek
- Tennova Healthcare-Shelbyville
- Unicoi County Hospital, Erwin
- Woodridge Hospital, Johnson City