Metro Atlanta governments call drug makers, pharmacies a ‘public nuisance’ in new opioid lawsuit

The suit alleges more than two dozen companies engaged in a conspiracy to distribute a “patently absurd” quantity of opioids.

The city of Atlanta and six metro area counties this week filed a federal lawsuit against more than two dozen drug makers, pharmacies and prescription drug brokers, alleging that their role in the opioid crisis represents a public nuisance.

The lawsuit is just the latest of dozens that have been filed by Georgia cities and counties seeking to recover damages from the pharmaceutical industry for its role in spreading the addictive and potent painkillers.

The local governments say they were harmed financially because they had no choice but to pay insurance claims when their employees were prescribed opioids they did not need.

As a result, taxpayers have spent “millions of dollars each year in their efforts to combat the public nuisance created by (the companies’) deceptive marketing campaign,” including health care costs, criminal justice and victimization costs, social costs, and lost productivity costs, the lawsuit said.

The agencies also argue the companies harmed residents across the metro Atlanta area, which has long been a hotspot for opioid addiction, overdoses and deaths.

Across Georgia, 2,390 people died from drug overdoses in 2021, and 71% were linked to opioids, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Statewide opioid-related deaths rose more than threefold from 2010 to 2020.

The companies have not yet filed a response in court. The lead defendant, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, did not immediately respond to an AJC request for comment.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of North Georgia, seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the companies in a jury trial. It alleges that they engaged in a coordinated conspiracy to distribute a “patently absurd” quantity of opioids, in part by spreading misinformation to patients and doctors that overstated the benefits of opioids and downplayed the risk of addiction.

The suit also claims the companies neglected their legal responsibilities to protect public health, even as they earned “enormous profits by flooding the country with prescription opioids.”

Clayton, DeKalb, Forsyth, Fulton, Henry and Rockdale counties joined the city in the lawsuit.

Cobb County filed a similar public nuisance lawsuit against some of the same companies in 2021, including the grocery store and pharmacy chain Publix Super Markets, which countersued the county in February. That suit is pending in a federal court in Ohio.

Publix denied wrongdoing, calling the county’s public nuisance claims “novel and unprecedented, ... baseless (and) false.”

To date, the largest opioid-related settlement awarded came in 2021, when thousands of local governments, including some in Georgia, settled with four large drug distributors for $26 billion.

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