Mark P. Chalos of the national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP announces that Smith County has filed a lawsuit against prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors to recover taxpayer money spent to combat the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc on the Smith County community.
The complaint, which is believed to be the first by a Tennessee county to be filed in federal court, alleges that the defendants in the suit, which include Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Teva Pharmaceutical, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Noramco Inc., Endo Health Solutions, Mallinckrodt, Allergan, Actavis, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Insys Therapeutics, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, and additional affiliated businesses and entities (the “Defendants”), violated the law by falsely promoting highly addictive opioids as safe and necessary, while concealing the true risks of the drugs.
The complaint states that these defendants also conspired to manufacture and distribute millions of doses of highly addictive opioids, knowing that they were being trafficked and used for illicit purposes, and recklessly disregarded their devastating effect on the taxpayers and government of Smith County. As a result of the conspiracy, Smith County taxpayers have spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the opioid crisis and deal with its effects on their community, said officials.
“We’ve seen our communities devastated by the addiction to opioids," said Mr. Chalos. "What we have seen throughout our region is millions of pills being sold in communities where there aren’t millions of people. It's time the opioid manufacturers faced responsibility for their destructive and wrongful conduct that has led to injuries and destroyed lives and families across Smith County, across Tennessee, and throughout the U.S."
"Smith County is one of Tennessee’s most vibrant communities,” said Smith County Mayor Michael Nesbitt. “The opioid epidemic has created serious challenges for our county and our government. Our goal is to hold the wrongdoers accountable and to recover taxpayer money that the opiod epidemic has consumed.”
As alleged in the Complaint:
Opioids are estimated to kill upwards of 100 Americans per day, and cost health services providers billions of dollars per year both in payments for unnecessary and harmful prescriptions of the drugs themselves, and the costs of treating the diseases and injuries they cause. Accidental drug overdose deaths, of which at least two-thirds are opioid overdoses, are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Accidental drug overdose deaths, predominantly from opioids, exceed the number of deaths caused by cars or guns. The economic burden caused by opioid abuse in the United States is approximately $78.5 billion, including lost productivity and increased social services, health insurance costs, increased criminal justice presence and strain on judicial resources, and substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation. Opioid manufacturing and distributing companies systematically and repeatedly disregarded the health and safety of their customers and the public. Charged by law to monitor and report dangerous behavior, they failed to do so in favor of maximizing corporate profits and increasing their market share.
The Complaint further alleges that Defendants’ marketing — and not any medical breakthrough —rationalized prescribing opioids for chronic pain and opened the floodgates for opioid use and abuse. “Defendants falsely and misleadingly, and contrary to the language of their drugs’ labels: (1) downplayed the serious risk of addiction; (2) promoted the concept of “pseudoaddiction” and thus advocated that the signs of addiction should be treated with more opioids; (3) exaggerated the effectiveness of screening tools in preventing addiction; (4) claimed that opioid dependence and withdrawal are easily managed; (5) denied the risks of higher opioid dosages; and (6) exaggerated the effectiveness of “abuse-deterrent” opioid formulations to prevent abuse and addiction. Conversely, Defendants also falsely touted the benefits of long-term opioid use, including the supposed ability of opioids to improve function and quality of life, even though there was no good evidence to support Defendants’ claims.”
Smith County alleges claims for racketeering, conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, public nuisance, negligence, and unjust enrichment, and seeks all legal and equitable relief as allowed by law under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and Tennessee statutory and common law. The Complaint seeks repayment of costs associated with the opioid epidemic in Smith County, including actual damages, treble damages, equitable relief, forfeiture as deemed proper by the Court, attorney’s fees and all costs and expenses of suit and pre- and post-judgment interest.