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Chambers joins opioid lawsuit

LANETT — Chambers County is joining a growing list of Alabama city and county governments that are suing pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and distribute opioids.

“We are a part of this suit,” County Attorney Skip McCoy told The Times-News. “The opioid crisis affects Chambers County in so many ways. In some cases, good people get addicted to pain medication and can’t get off of it. People addicted to opioids commit crimes to support their drug habit. People will break in and steal from people. Opioids are gateway drugs to more serious drugs like heroin.”

McCoy said the big pharmaceutical companies are in a benefit-risk assessment scenario. “They want to see how much they can make before they are exposed to liability,” he said. “The bad thing about opioid addiction is all the parallels that come off of it. The user’s life is ruined.  More often than not it is the head of a household. When they are strung out and can no longer support their family, it puts them in a bad situation. Children may commit crimes to support their family, and all this winds up on the door steps of the courts.”

Due to budget cuts at the state level, Alabama does not have the mental health services needed to deal with this kind of problem.  McCoy says it’s like a snowball rolling downhill. “It’s getting bigger and bigger,” he said, “and it’s all over the United States.”

McCoy said it’s wise to get in on the front end of such a massive lawsuit. Chambers County was on the tail end of a lawsuit against the tobacco companies and got very little money from it.

“I don’t think the average person can grasp this situation with opioid addiction,” McCoy said. “A Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem. It’s something that’s spinning out of control.”

Chambers County is a party to action being taken by the Beasley Allen law firm. The lawsuit alleges the marketing of these drugs contributed to the creation of the opioid epidemic, a public health and safety crisis. Responding to the opioid crisis has required city and county governments to sustain economic damages and to continue to bear a significant financial burden. Chambers County is represented by Beasley Allen lawyers Rhon E. Jones, who is head of the firm’s Toxic Torts Section, Rick Stratton, Will Sutton, Ryan Kral and LaBarron Boone..

Beasley Allen has filed similar lawsuits on behalf of the City of Greenville, Houston County, Barbour County, Limestone County, City of Anniston, and City of Evergreen, Alabama, as well as Sumner County, Tennessee. The firm also is representing the State of Alabama in its opioid lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals.

“This crisis was created by the pharmaceutical industry, which clearly put its interests in profit ahead of concerns for public safety,” Jones said. “They overstated the benefits of these drugs while downplaying the risks. As a result, even when opioids are prescribed for legitimate medical reasons, their high propensity for addiction often leads to their abuse.”

Economic damages resulting from the opioid epidemic include costs for providing medical care, therapeutic care and treatments for patients suffering from opioid-related addiction or disease, including overdoses and deaths; costs for providing counseling and rehabilitation services; costs for treating infants born with opioid-related medical conditions; public safety and law enforcement expenses; and care for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related disability or incapacitation.

In 2016, Wilcox County, Ala. where the Town of Yellow Bluff is located, had an opioid prescription rate of 66.4 for every 100 people. Nationally, four Alabama cities rank in the Top 15 places with the highest rates of opioid abuse – Anniston, Gadsden, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. Nationally, opioids are responsible for killing more than 183,000 people since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2016 alone, 42,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdoses.

Defendants include Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, LTD.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Noramco, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis PLS; Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Actavis, Inc.; Watson Laboratories, Inc.; Actavis, LLC; Actavis Pharm a, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc.; Mallinckrodt plc; Mallinckrodt LLC; McKesson Corporation; Cardinal Health, Inc.; and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation.

The complaint is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.