More Georgia counties sue drug makers amid opioid overdose crisis

Update: Hall, Candler, Cook, Crisp, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Madison, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Sumter and Walton counties have joined a lawsuit against opioid makers amid the nation's deadly painkiller overdose epidemic.

Athens-Clarke County this week joined three other Georgia counties in suing drug makers and distributors, alleging they helped fuel the nation’s deadly opioid overdose epidemic through racketeering, deceptive trade practices and false advertising.

In 2016, 1,394 Georgians died from drug overdoses. And between 2006 and 2016, there were 116.8 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in Athens-Clarke County, according to the lawsuit.

The unified city-county government is seeking unspecified damages to cover its expenses for medical care, drug treatment and law enforcement.

“The manufacturers aggressively pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction,” Athens-Clarke County says in its 176-page lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Athens.

“These pharmaceutical companies aggressively advertised to and persuaded doctors to prescribe highly addictive, dangerous opioids, [turning] patients into drug addicts for their own corporate profit.”

DeKalb and Fulton counties have filed similar suits in recent months. The Athens law firm of Blasingame, Burch, Garrard and Ashley is representing Candler and Athens-Clarke counties, and it expects to file similar lawsuits on behalf of other Georgia counties and hospitals in the coming weeks. Candler filed its suit last month.

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More than 20 drug makers and distributors are targeted by the latest lawsuit, including Purdue Pharma, which markets OxyContin. Purdue released a statement Thursday denying the allegations.

“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution,” Purdue spokesman John Puskar said in a prepared statement. “As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to (Food and Drug Administration-approved) medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge.

“Although our products account for approximately 2 percent of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s) Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed the first FDA-approved opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone.”

Naloxone is a drug often used in treating overdoses.

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