DAs in three Northeast TN counties file lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

A lawsuit was filed against three opioid manufacturers by district attorneys general representing three Northeast Tennessee counties on Tuesday with a drug-addicted infant, designated as “Baby Doe,” also listed as a plaintiff, reports the Kingsport Times News.

It’s the first such lawsuit filed by governmental officials in Tennessee, though state Attorney General Herbert Slaterly has been publicly urged to sue by House Speaker Beth Harwell – Ohio’s attorney general already has – while officials in Shelby County and elsewhere have been talking up the idea. (Previous post HERE; Commercial Appeal story on the Shelby talk HERE.)

In a dramatic press conference held at Niswonger’s Children’s Hospital, which recently opened a unit dedicated to drug addicted babies, the district attorneys general for Sullivan, Hawkins and Washington counties announced the lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt PLC and Endo Pharmaceuticals.

Opioids produced by those companies include OxyContin, Roxicodone, Opana ER and other opioids.

Flanked by police officers from all over the region, Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus laid out the case for the lawsuit.

“Our state has the second-highest statewide opioid prescription rank in the United States,” he said. “Northeast Tennessee has been hit worst in the state by the opioid addiction. And Sullivan County, in my opinion, is the epicenter of the epidemic.”

Purdue denied the allegations in the 70-page lawsuit filed in Chancery Court in Sullivan County. The company said they share concern about the opioid crisis and were committed to working collaboratively for a solution.

Further, from the News Sentinel’s report:

Staubus said he and his two prosecutorial partners — the 1st Judicial District’s Tony Clark and the 3rd Judicial District’s Dan Armstrong — did not consult with the state attorney general’s office before filing the lawsuit.

… The lawsuit uses a 2005 law — officially labeled the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act — upon which to stake the prosecutors’ bid to label the drugmakers as drug dealers and punish them financially for the devastation their drugs have wrought.

That drug dealer liability statute was dubbed the “crack tax” law soon after it was passed because it allowed civil action against street drug dealers, many of whom were peddling crack. Authorities already could seize from convicted drug dealers the profits from their black market trade under criminal and civil forfeiture laws.

Because most drug dealers went to prison after their crimes were discovered, none of them had money from which crack addicts or anyone else could collect civil damages. After a brief spate of attempts by the Tennessee Department of Revenue to invoke the “crack tax,” the law fell into disuse.

Unlike street dealers, Big Pharma has money — lots of it.

Purdue, based in New York and the maker of OxyContin, has annual sales of nearly $3 billion. Mallinckrodt, based in the United Kingdom and makers of opiates Roxicodone and oxycodone, and Endo, based in Pennsylvania and the maker of Opana, Percocet and Zydone, also rack up billions each year from opiate sales.

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