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UPDATE: NE Tennessee prosecutors to sue drug manufacturers over opioid epidemic

Becky Campbell • Updated Jun 13, 2017 at 4:09 PM

Three East Tennessee prosecutors and a child called Baby Doe have filed suit against three major drug manufacturers and some of their subsidiaries, a medical clinic and two individuals demanding action regarding the production, promotion and distribution of opioids that has left thousands of residents in the region in the grips of a devastating drug addiction.

Tony Clark, First Judicial District attorney general, who serves Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties; Barry Staubus, Second Judicial District attorney general, who serves Sullivan County; and Dan Armstrong, Third Judicial District attorney general, who serves Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins County, made the announcement in a joint press conference Tuesday.

The announcement came at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, but hospital CEO Lisa Carter said the facility is not directly connected to the suit. In addition to the district attorneys general and Mountain States Health Alliance officials, there were representatives from Wellmont Health System and every law enforcement agency in Northeast Tennessee.

“We have a huge increase in the number of babies born with NAS as a direct result of opioid addiction,” Carter said. “This has become a nationwide epidemic that is most widespread right here in Northeast Tennessee.”

Specifically, the suit filed in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport, names the defendants as:

• Purdue Pharma L.P., based in Delaware;

• Purdue Pharma Inc., a New York corporation with the principal place of business in Connecticut;

• The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc., also in Delaware but doing business in Connecticut.

•  Mallinckrodt PLC, an Irish company with corporate headquarters in Staines-upon-Thames, United Kingdom;

• Endo Health Solutions Inc., a Delaware corporation doing business in Pennsylvania;

• Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Delaware corporation owned by Endo Health Solutions;

• Center Pointe Medical Clinic LLC, a Tennessee limited liability corporation located at 2020 Brookside Drive, Kingsport;

• Elizabeth Ann Bowers Campbell, of Johnson City, who the suit said participated in the illegal drug market for opioids; and

• Pamela Moore, of Church Hill, who was also accused of participating in the illegal drug market for opioids.

According to the suit, Purdue makes OxyContin, the powerful pain medication initially meant for end-stage cancer patients. The drug has been Purdue’s largest-selling opioid since 2009, and produced national annual sales between $2.47 billion and $2.99 billion. In 2006, the drug profits were around $800 million. Mallinckrodt manufactures Roxicodone and Oxycodone, both of which are powerful pain killers. Endo makes the opioids Opana, Opana ER, Percodan, Percocet and Zydone. The drugs make up around $403 million of the company’s $3 billion in sales for 2012, the suit states.

Baby Doe was born March 10, 2015, addicted to opioids through his mother, identified as Mary Doe, who was also addicted. She began using opioids recreationally, but she was later prescribed the pain killers after a 2011 injury from a serious vehicle wreck. To ease the pain from multiple surgeries, her doctor prescribed Lortab without screening her for a possible addiction.

She had been on opioids for four years when she became pregnant, and by then it was too late to prevent it from passing on to her baby.

“He was born addicted to opioids, diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and forced to endure a painful start to his life; crying excessively, arching his back, refusing to feed and shaking,” the suit stated. “As a result of the defendants’ fraudulent scheme, Mary Doe’s community in the Appalachian region of Tennessee was awash in opioids, fueling a dramatic increase in those exposed to and addicted to Oxycontin, Roxicodone, Opana and other opioids.”

Gerard Stranch, whose firm Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings PLLC in Nashville, filed the lawsuit, also spoke at the press conference. He held up a translucent light brown prescription bottle with several pills inside and shook it.

“For many children, this is the rattle of their childhood,” he said. “This is what they hear as babies.” He said the drug manufacturers “created a market that didn’t exist, and that market is for opioids to be used for people who have non-cancer, non-life-ending pain. They did this by creating a fraudulent marketing campaign.”

He said that campaign consisted of representatives going to doctors’ offices to convince them that “their opioids were not addictive.”

The lawsuit cites several media articles about the opioid epidemic, including one the Johnson City Press published about legislation directed to help educate at-risk mothers of drug dependent babies.

Tennessee ranks second in the nation for the rate of opioid addiction, Staubus said.

“Sullivan County is ground zero for opioid addiction in our state,” he said. “This region has experienced devastating consequences as a result of the opioid epidemic. Too many of our citizens’ lives have been turned upside down as a result of opioid abuse, and far too many have actually lost their lives from an overdose.”

Allegations in the lawsuit include:

• Purdue Pharma embarked on a fraudulent campaign to convince physicians that OxyContin created minimal risk of addiction;

• As Purdue’s marketing efforts demonstrated success in the form of rapid increases in opioid prescriptions, Mallinckrodt, Endo Pharmaceuticals and other opioid manufacturers joined Purdue in its fraudulent scheme;

• Purdue’s efforts and those of the other defendants to mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and addictive nature of, opioid drugs led to an opioid epidemic, created an environment for thousands of individuals in Tennessee to become addicted to opioids, and fueled a dramatic increase in Sullivan County, Tennessee, in the number of individuals exposed to, and addicted to, OxyContin, Roxicodone®, Opana ER and other opioids, and;

• The police departments, schools, district attorneys’ offices, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and taxpayers of the state of Tennessee and Sullivan County will bear the financial burden of Purdue’s fraudulent campaign for decades to come.

While there is no specific monetary demand in the lawsuit, it does ask for a judgment against the defendants “or damages resulting from breaches of statutory and common law, seeks to award restitution to the plaintiffs, and an injunction to stop the flood of opioids to the region.”

Clark said any money awarded in the suit would be distributed to the judicial districts to assist in prosecuting drug dealers and helping people recover from their addictions.

Another attendee was Chris Miller, who said he’s seen the destructive nature of opioid addiction firsthand — not as an addict himself, but watching his brother battle with drugs and watching his adopted son wage the same war in a neonatal ICU a few years ago.

“It just truly breaks my heart to see the devastating impact that opioids have brought to somewhere I consider home,” Miller said. “This is not a distant urban area. It’s not an inner-city environment. It’s home. It’s the beautiful foothills of the mountains and I believe some of the most beautiful country and most amazing people God has ever created.

“But the reality is opioids are robbing us of that beauty and they’re destroying the lives of those people.”

To help raise awareness of the problem, visit the website www.sullivanbabydoe.com or find the Facebook page SullivanBabyDoe, the Twitter feed @SullivanBabyDoe or the YouTube channel also named Sullivan Baby Doe. The full press conference is also online at https://goo.gl/Nf39o6.

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Earlier report:

Attorneys general representing the First, Second and Third Judicial Districts of Tennessee made a joint announcement on Tuesday, June 13, at Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee. Prosectors highlighted the effects of parental drug addiction on newborns as they announced plans to file suit against opioid manufacturers. Scroll down for video and a news release. Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for a full story.

Press release:

‘The district attorneys general of Tennessee’s First, Second and Third Judicial Districts jointly filed a lawsuit today against prescription opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P., its related companies, Mallinckrodt PLC and Endo Pharmaceuticals.

Filed in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport, Tennessee, the lawsuit also names a fourth plaintiff, Baby Doe by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, along with Center Pointe Medical Clinic, LLC, and two convicted opioid dealers as additional defendants.

“Tennessee has the second-highest rate of opioid addiction in the nation, as noted in the lawsuit, and Sullivan County is ground zero for opioid addiction in our state,” says Barry Staubus, district attorney general for Tennessee’s Second Judicial District. “This region has experienced devastating consequences as a result of the opioid epidemic. Too many of our citizens’ lives have been turned upside down as a result of opioid abuse, and far too many have actually lost their lives from an overdose.

“In addition, opioid addiction presents a tremendous financial burden for our region, resulting in increased costs to each of our counties’ policing, health care, rehabilitation, housing and criminal justice systems,” Staubus says. “We believe there is a direct correlation between Northeast Tennessee’s opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma’s fraudulent claims in their marketing of OxyContin® to the medical community, and it is our intent to hold them accountable for the damage they have inflicted upon our region.”

The lawsuit alleges that:

Purdue Pharma embarked on a fraudulent campaign to convince physicians that OxyContin created minimal risk of addiction;

As Purdue’s marketing efforts demonstrated success in the form of rapid increases in opioid prescriptions, Mallinckrodt, Endo Pharmaceuticals and other opioid manufacturers joined Purdue in its fraudulent scheme;

Purdue’s efforts and those of the other defendants to mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and addictive nature of, opioid drugs led to an opioid epidemic, created an environment for thousands of individuals in Tennessee to become addicted to opioids, and fueled a dramatic increase in Sullivan County, Tennessee, in the number of individuals exposed to, and addicted to, OxyContin, Roxicodone®, Opana ER and other opioids, and;

The police departments, schools, district attorneys’ offices, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and taxpayers of the state of Tennessee and Sullivan County will bear the financial burden of Purdue’s fraudulent campaign for decades to come.

“For many years, Purdue Pharma has inaccurately promoted OxyContin as being an appropriate medication for chronic pain, and being less likely than other pain medications to cause addiction,” says J. Gerard Stranch, IV, managing partner for Nashville, Tennessee-based law firm Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC. “Their aggressive marketing of this product has resulted in an opioid epidemic that is ravaging Tennessee, causing immense suffering to those born addicted to opioids, and costing millions of dollars to local governments forced to deal with the aftermath.”

Tennesseans’ addiction to opioids has created a secondary epidemic impacting the state’s newborns. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, from Jan. 1, 2017, through April 1, 2017, approximately 48 of every 1,000 births in Sullivan County were Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) cases. Children born with NAS experience agonizing withdrawal symptoms as their bodies emerge from the influence of drugs.

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of babies born with NAS as a direct result of opioid addiction,” says Lisa Carter, CEO of Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “This has become a nationwide epidemic that is most widespread right here in Northeast Tennessee.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the average cost of care for babies born with NAS is roughly 10 times more than babies born without NAS. The average cost to stabilize an NAS newborn is nearly $63,000, while the average cost for a non-NAS newborn is approximately $7,200. For the entire state of Tennessee, the care for 660 babies born with NAS cost $41.5 million for most of 2013, compared to $4.79 million for the same number born without NAS.

The lawsuit demands judgment against the defendants for damages resulting from breaches of statutory and common law, seeks to award restitution to the plaintiffs, and an injunction to stop the flood of opioids to the region.

For additional facts and information surrounding this issue, as well as a full copy of the lawsuit, please visit www.sullivanbabydoe.com.

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