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County sues makers, distributors of opioids
Lawsuit claims drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin cause 'serious health, safety crisis'
This graphic provided by the White House details part of the human toll of what President Donald Trump declared as a public health emergency.

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County faces “a serious public health and safety crisis” due to the abuse of opioids.

That’s according to a lawsuit the county filed in federal court this week against more than 20 companies that make and distribute the drugs. The

Athens law firm Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, P.C., filed the civil suit Tuesday in federal court in the Cleveland-based Northern District of Ohio.

The county is claiming a public nuisance; violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; negligence; violation of the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act; false statements in advertising and violation of legal duty.

In the suit, the county says it is trying “to eliminate the hazard to public health and safety caused by the opioid epidemic, to abate the nuisance caused thereby, and to recoup monies that have been spent, or will be spent, because of Defendants’ false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids.”

Opioids are synthetic or partially synthetic manufactured drugs that mimic the properties of opiates. OxyContin and Vicodin are among the common opioids.

The suit claims opioid analgesics were widely diverted and improperly used, and their widespread abuse has resulted in a national epidemic of opioid overdose deaths and addictions.

“With this lawsuit, we hope to help stop the opioid epidemic and secure the resources that local governments need to combat it,” Jim Matthews, a partner in the Blasingame firm, said.

The firm has filed suit on behalf of more than 40 Georgia counties, cities and hospital authorities. The Walton County government filed a suit of its own in March with the help of BBGA.

President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency in October 2017. The White House said more than 2 million Americans were addicted to prescription or illicit opioids in 2016, and that drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury deaths in the U.S.

In the lawsuit, the county declares its own health crisis and says the distribution of opioids into Newton County and Georgia will create a public nuisance and the county will bear a cost through medical care for patients who become addicted to the pills, and with stepped-up law enforcement costs.

Defendants include Purdue Pharma L.P. and Purdue Pharma Inc., the maker of OxyContin and Dilaudid; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the maker of Actiq and Fentora; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Duragesic (fentanyl); and Endo Health Solutions Inc., the maker of drugs including Opana, Percodan and Percocet.

Three wholesale distributors — AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp. — also are named as defendants. The suit says they dominate 85 percent of the prescription opioid market.

Newton County is asking the defendants to fund an “abatement fund” for the purposes of abating the opioid nuisance; awarding actual and treble damages, along with injunctive and equitable relief including damages for all medical and counseling costs, the costs for providing care for children who suffer when their parents have opioid addictions, and costs associated with law enforcement and public safety related to the opioid epidemic.

Defendants also are asked to pay legal costs and punitive damages. The county won’t pay legal fees, but would pay any of its law firm’s costs out of any winnings or settlements collected.

The case was filed in the Northern District of Ohio because it has handled national opiate litigation.

PDF: Newton County v. AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. et al.