Lawyers suing opioid companies argue the pharmaceuticals opened the door to addiction for Georgians. The companies say they’re not responsible for what irresponsible health care workers and patients did.

Georgia judge denies opioid companies’ attempt to stop state lawsuit

A Gwinnett County judge has denied the attempts of companies tied to Georgia’s opioid crisis to stop the state’s lawsuit against them.

Georgia, under Attorney General Chris Carr, has filed suit against more than two dozen makers and distributors of the opioids that it argues opened the door to addiction for thousands of residents. Altogether, the defendants filed five separate motions — some as groups and some individually — to have the state’s case dismissed.

In an order issued Wednesday, Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Randy Rich ordered the case to go forward against all but one of the defendants.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, was the lone company dismissed from the suit. Purdue had to be set aside from the state’s case because it has filed for bankruptcy, meaning federal law takes over.

Georgia has decided to accept a controversial settlement deal Purdue is offering. The bankruptcy is part of that deal.

“The opioid crisis is perhaps the most devastating and far-reaching public health disaster in United States and Georgia history,” Carr said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This lawsuit seeks to hold accountable those who played a role in fueling the crisis, and we appreciate that the state of Georgia will be given an opportunity to seek justice for widespread damage.”

The AJC requested comment Wednesday from attorneys representing several pharmaceutical companies. As of press time, none had responded.

Georgia’s lawsuit, like many others filed around the country, accuses opioid manufacturers and distributors of conspiring to deceive doctors, regulators and patients about the addictive nature of their drugs.

The suit says 180,000 Georgians have an opioid use disorder and argues that the epidemic has created a whole range of expenses for the state. Among them: increases in addiction treatment, the treatment of associated illnesses, the burden on policing and jails, and the increased need for foster care.

Details of the involvement of some of the companies — Purdue, for one — have been reported in news stories.

While Georgia recently opted into the Purdue Pharma settlement, others have not, arguing that the settlement allows Purdue owners, the Sackler family, to keep too much of its personal fortune. Under the settlement, the family would pay $3 billion to the plaintiffs and give up the company. But the company has reportedly already funneled as much as $13 billion of its assets to the Sacklers.

Other pharmaceutical companies in Georgia’s suit, meanwhile, have argued that there is no existing evidence they did anything wrong. They contended that the state had nothing specific to say about their actions and filed the lawsuit as a fishing expedition — an excuse to go through their internal documents and see if they could find something.

In his order, Rich wrote that complainants are only required to provide fair notice to defendants and “a general indication of the type of litigation involved.” He said the discovery process “bears the burden of filling in the details.”

Rich, who took over the case after it was moved to a specialized business court in Gwinnett, had put discovery on hold until he ruled on the motions to dismiss.

It was not immediately clear if discovery can now begin. Rich issued a separate order Wednesday calling for a “scheduling conference” to be held Nov. 13.

The pharmaceutical companies named in Georgia’s suit have also argued that they are not responsible for what happens downstream with individual drug abusers and unethical prescribers.

“The government is seeking more money for its coffers as a result of downstream harm,” Richard Gallagher, an attorney for generic opioid manufacturer Mallinckrodt, told Rich last month. “It’s not permissible.”

The judge rejected that argument as well.

“Given the allegations that Defendants expanded the demand for, then flooded the market with, prescription opioids by failing to monitor, halt and report suspicious orders pursuant to laws designed to prevent these acts,” he wrote, “the Court cannot agree these actions are so unforeseeable or disconnected as to sever entirely the causal chain.”

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