Candler County attorney Kendall Gross said it’s not because local physicians are overprescribing.
“I would be willing to bet you that the overwhelming majority of people in Candler don’t have any opioid prescriptions at all,” he said. Instead, he points to “pill mills” as the culprit — clinics and doctors who dispense narcotics without a legitimate medical reason.
The epidemic, he said, has racked up a bill. There are costs associated with medical care for people who have become addicted, of course, but there are other expenses as well; Law enforcement has seen an increase in robberies and burglaries and the Department of Family and Child Services is left caring for children neglected by addicted parents. Now, the county is seeking more than $75,000 in damages for reimbursement of the public funds used to fight addiction.
The Georgia Senate’s health committee on Thursday advanced two bills, Senate Bill 357 and Senate Bill 352. SB 352 would combat elements of the opioid epidemic that is ravaging Georgia.
The 176-page lawsuit accuses more than two dozens drug makers and distributors of misrepresenting the addictive risks of prescription opioids while fraudulently marketing the drugs as a cure for chronic pain. The cost, the suit said, has been an increase in opioid-related addictions and deaths.
“In connection with this scheme, each Manufacturer Defendant spent, and continues to spend, millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain,” the suit reads.
The suit alleges these marketing campaigns targeted general practitioners and family doctors who lack the expertise and time to monitor high-risk opioid patients. It also accuses pharmaceutical companies of failing to halt and report suspicious orders of prescriptions opioids, which could potentially be redistributed through illegal networks.
Matthews, the attorney representing the county, said Candler and the other counties will join a larger body of plaintiffs nationwide in suing the drug companies.
“We thought it best to join other law firms nationally because we’re all going to have to team up against the defendants,” he said. The defendants in the suit are some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry — major manufacturers like Purdue Pharma, which produces OxyContin, and Endo Pharmaceuticals, which produces Percocet. But Matthews said he isn’t daunted.
“Sure, they have unlimited resources, which is another reason for us to band together in court with other law firms so that we also have resources,” he said.
Matthews said that although the case could drag on for up to three or four years, he believes the judge is more interested in settling within the year than presiding over a drawn-out legal battle. But even if the case does last months or years, that could work in the plaintiffs’ favor.
“The longer it drags on, the more evidence could come out and the more plaintiffs may file,” he said.
The defendants include:
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
Teva Pharmaceuticals USA
Johnson & Johnson
Endo Health Solutions
AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation