By Maggie Lee
Fulton County’s top elected official said the county is seeking redress for “great harm” as he announced on Monday that Fulton is suing more than two dozen entities that manufacture or distribute opioid drugs.
The 258-page complaint accuses drug companies of deceptive and unfair marketing, and of downplaying opioid addiction risk, in order to sell the drugs widely.
“Fulton County, Georgia, like so many communities, has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. The personal cost and toll to many of our citizens has been tragic and devastating. And far too often began as a result of an opiate that never should have been prescribed in the first place,” said Fulton County Commission Vice Chairman Bob Ellis, announcing the lawsuit.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, but also addictive prescription painkillers like oxycodone. Some folks who start with prescriptions get hooked and do move on to cheaper street drugs, like heroin.
And that’s costing the county money, according to Ellis.
He was speaking from floor of the commission’s public meeting room Downtown, standing with attorneys and the district attorney, deputies, police, the folks who oversee public health and behavioral health officials and the county’s chief medical examiner.
That is, the officials who meet people who have addictions on the street, arrest them if they’re getting in trouble trying to feed a habit, prosecute them, take them to Grady, jail them, treat them, and finally, in a few cases, fill out a death certificate.
Ellis said those public services are under stress.
“Jails have become de facto mental health and addiction treatment facilities. the cost to provide those services has exploded as a result,” he said.
A total 154 people died of overdoses in Fulton County in 2016, said District Attorney Paul Howard. Of those, 45 percent were initially addicted to the drugs mentioned in the suit, he said. That is, prescriptions.
The lawsuit is like lawsuits against tobacco decades ago, said Paul Napoli, of Napoli Shoklnik, one of the outside attorneys who’s handling the case.
“But we think we have additional tools in the tool box that we didn’t have in tobacco, and those are the Controlled Substances Act. Georgia has its own Controlled Substances Act that puts responsibility on manufacturers and distributors to be responsible in distributing their drugs here in Georgia. So with that tool we think we have a strong weapon to seek some recovery,” Napoli said.
Ellis said it’s the first case in the state like this. But it’s not the only one in the country. Napoli’s firm itself has been busy lately announcing similar cases in places like Mora County, New Mexico and Nassau County, New York.
Napoli said about 120 counties nationwide have sued opioid manufacturers or distributors.
“Fulton is forced to spend taxpayer money on rehabilitation and other services in the community, money that can be used to rebuild infrastructure or can be used for other community projects,” Napoli said.
The case won’t cost Fulton County taxpayers a cent, said Roderick Edmond of Edmond, Lindsay & Hoffler, LLP, another outside attorney on the case. The case is being financed by the attorneys.
“If we recover for Fulton County, then there’s a 25 percent recovery [fee].” He said the law firms will also pay if a judge rules against the county and orders it to pay the companies’ legal fees.
The defendants include Atlanta’s Medicine Center Pharmacy and Amarc Medical Clinic, whose operators have been convicted of drug-trafficking charges.
The entities named in the suit are:
Purdue Pharma, LP, Purdue Pharma, Inc.,
The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.,
Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.,
Johnson & Johnson,
Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc., n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis, PLC.,
Actavis, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
Watson Laboratories, Inc.,
Insys Therapeutics, Inc.,
Actavis Pharma, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc.,
Endo Health Solutions, Inc.,
McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc.,
Medicine Center Pharmacy,
Amarc Medical Clinic,
J.M. Smith Corporation,
PSS World Medical, Inc.,
Attain Med, Inc.,
Bloodworth Wholesale Drugs, Inc.,