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Opiod crisis prompts suit from county

The ongoing, country-wide opioid crisis has prompted a continuous legal response from cities, counties and states looking to recoup financial damages.

In December, the city of Greenville filed suit through the Beasley Allen law firm against a number of pharmaceutical companies, citing unethical marketing and distribution practices that have negatively affected public health.

Now, Butler County has filed a suit of its own through Beasley Allen.

The city of Georgiana also filed a similar suit through Beasley Allen.

The statistics that provide evidence of a ‘crisis’ are vast and incontrovertible.

Butler County, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, has an opioid prescribing rate of 135.4 per 100 persons, with the state as a whole sitting at 121 per 100- the highest in the nation as of 2016.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that 75% of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s started with a prescription.

CDC research indicates that prescription drug overdoses “kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined”, with heroin being a narcotic opioid.

The basis for the lawsuit is the allegation, in the words of the complaint, “the opioid epidemic did not happen by accident.” 

The lawsuit alleges that the listed drug manufacturers have “conducted, and [continue] to conduct, a marketing scheme designed to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain, resulting in opioid treatment for a far broader group of patients who are much more likely to become addicted and suffer other adverse effects.” 

The pharmaceutical companies are accused of using “false and misleading claims” in marketing the drugs to doctors, hospitals and patients, downplaying the risk and effects of addiction and “falsely touting the benefits of long-term opioid use.”

By any estimation, the marketing schemes were successful.

Opioids “generated $11 billion in revenue for drug companies in 2010 alone,” and are currently the most prescribed class of drug, according to Katherine Eban in Fortune.

Additionally, drug distributors named in the lawsuit are accused of consistently failing to report suspicious orders and “breaching [their] duties under state and federal law” to act as “gatekeepers” to opioids.

Suspicious orders are defined as orders of “unusual size… unusual frequency, or orders deviating from a normal pattern.”

Also cited is evidence that the manufacturers and distributors conspired together to increase sales of opioids, including practices such as “rebates and chargebacks” from the manufacturers to the distributors for sales.

The Pain Care Forum, “whose members include the manufacturers’ and the distributors’ trade association,” spent “over $740 million lobbying” on behalf of the companies on the federal and state levels.

Greenville attorney Calvin Poole, III, who is representing the county alongside Beasley Allen, is quoted in the firm’s press release stating, “while Big Pharma executives sit comfortably isolated in their offices and board rooms, Butler County’s first responders, hospitals and other local government agencies faced, firsthand, the devastation of the pharmaceutical industry’s reprehensible actions. Butler County has taken care of the brokenness our community suffered because of opioid addiction, but we will not be left holding the bag. The pharmaceutical industry must face the music and pay for its lies and greed.”

The lawsuit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division.