5 additional TN district attorneys file suit against opioid producers
by Kim Swindell Wood | January 11, 2018 9:56 am
14 district attorneys general representing 47 counties now involved in fight against fraudulent marketing, criminal pill mills
The district attorneys general of Tennessee’s 13th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, and 31stt Judicial Districts have jointly filed a lawsuit against prescription opioid producer Purdue Pharma L.P. and its related companies, along with Mallinckrodt LLC, Endo Health Solutions, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
Filed Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Cumberland County Circuit Court in Crossville, the lawsuit also includes additional defendants Montclair Health & Wellness LLC (doing business as Special Associates); North Alabama Pain Services, LLC; Mark Murphy, medical director of both pain clinics; David Florence, primary physician at several additional regional pain clinics; and Nathan Paul Haskins, a convicted drug dealer.
According to ProPublica, Murphy was the nation’s top prescriber of oxycodone hydrochloride and OxyContin® to Medicare Part D patients in 2015.
“Tennessee ranks second in the nation for per-capita opioid prescriptions,” says Bryant C. Dunaway, district attorney general for Tennessee’s 13th Judicial District, which includes White County. “Tennessee doctors wrote more than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions in 2015. That’s more prescriptions than Tennessee has residents — men, women and children combined. We have experienced a massive influx of opioids into the 19 counties named in this suit. Millions of pills have been over-prescribed and diverted into vulnerable populations, resulting in a robust illegal trade, skyrocketing overdose rates, and a growing financial burden on our police, schools, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and taxpayers. The defendants named chose to participate in this process for personal gain, and we intend to hold them accountable.”
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants knowingly participated in the illegal opioid market through the following actions:
•The producer defendants directed their opioids to the 19 Tennessee counties of the state’s Thirteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Twenty-Second and Thirty-First Judicial Districts, while the criminal defendants participated in the illegal opioid drug market throughout the same judicial districts and surrounding areas;
•The drug producers embarked on a fraudulent campaign to convince physicians that opioids carried a low risk of addiction and were therefore appropriate for non-acute problems such as chronic pain;
•The drug producers’ misrepresentations regarding the addictive nature of opioids, as well as the aggressive marketing of their collective fraudulent message, contributed to a market for illegally prescribed opioids;
•The criminal defendants’ actions of over-prescribing opioids generated a significant regional influx of pills, resulting in a robust illegal drug trade;
•The drug producers’ marketing campaign gave rise to a market for street heroin for addicts who can no longer obtain prescription opioids or afford diverted opioids; and
•All defendants were aware of the extraordinary volume of prescriptions being written and took no steps to stop illegal prescriptions or diversions.
Unintentional overdose deaths now account for more early deaths in Tennessee than automobile accidents, suicides or homicides, and the vast majority of the state’s overdose deaths involve opioids — nearly 72 percent, as recorded in 2015. Among the 19 counties named, more than 1 million opioid prescriptions were filled in 2016. The same region recorded 550 opioid-related overdose deaths from 2012 to 2016.
“The defendants named in this complaint have either knowingly participated in the illegal market for opioids by purposely misleading the medical community and general public through fraudulent marketing campaigns, or they have overprescribed or diverted pills, or failed to stop the diversion of pills,” says J. Gerard Stranch, managing partner of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings (BS&J), PLLC, the Nashville-based law firm that filed the lawsuit. “The pill mills and dealers involved have written tens of thousands of opioid prescriptions and funneled millions of pills into our communities. The resulting illegal opioid trade has enriched the defendants at the expense of the citizens of Tennessee while causing immense suffering for those who become addicted.”
The lawsuit demands judgment against the defendants for damages resulting from breaches of statutory and common law, seeks punitive damages against the defendants for their role in flooding Tennessee with illegal opioids, seeks to award restitution to the plaintiffs, and requests an injunction to stop the flood of opioids to the region.
The suit is the third such complaint filed in Tennessee in recent months. The first was filed in June 2017 in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport, and the second was filed in September 2017 in Campbell County Circuit Court in Jacksboro. Collectively, the three complaints represent 14 district attorneys general and 47 counties in Tennessee.
The filed complaint is available for download or viewing by clicking here.