Drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers are among the list of more than 20 defendants named in a federal opioid lawsuit filed by the City of Athens, which claims it has had to spend a "significant amount" of money to combat the crisis.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 29, the day after the Athens City Council voted to authorize Mayor Ronnie Marks to retain Birmingham law firm Riley & Jackson and the Trousdale Ryan firm in Florence to bring the suit on behalf of the city.
“The lawsuit seeks to abate the public nuisance caused by the opioid crisis and to recover financial losses related to the crisis,” said Keith Jackson, with Riley & Jackson. “We contend that Athens has been forced to spend a significant amount of taxpayer money combating an epidemic that was caused in large part by the misconduct of the opioid industry.”
The amount Athens has spent wasn't specified in the complaint.
"We will prove at the appropriate time the costs Athens has incurred and the impact the opioid crisis has had on the community," Jackson said.
The lawsuit alleges the industry played a key role in causing the epidemic through deceptive marketing of highly addictive prescription painkillers to treat common chronic pain conditions.
A spokesman for an organization that represents primary pharmaceutical distributors said in a recent statement that distributors don't conduct research, manufacture, market or prescribe medications, "nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products, or patient-benefit designs.”
“The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated," said John Parker, on behalf of the the Healthcare Distribution Alliance.
Jackson said cities and counties have shouldered most of the harm from the crisis, with first responders and fire and police departments having to deal with overdoses and other issues.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, he said, because about 2,300 counties, cities and Native American tribes have similar cases pending in that district before Judge Dan Polster.
“In a process known as multi-district litigation, if we had filed the case in federal court here in Alabama, it would have been transferred to Judge Polster’s court,” Jackson said. “Based on a prior ruling by Judge Polster, if the case ultimately has to be tried, we have the right to request that the case be sent to the Northern District of Alabama to be decided here.”
Last month, the nation’s three largest drug distributors and a major drug maker agreed to a $260 million settlement in a case involving two Ohio counties, averting what would have been the first federal trial over the crisis, according to the Associated Press.
The agreement came hours before a jury was scheduled to hear opening arguments in federal court in Cleveland. Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson will pay a combined $215 million, and Israeli-based drugmaker Teva will contribute $20 million in cash and $25 million worth of generic Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, the AP article said.
The deal contains no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants, the article stated.
Decatur, Morgan County and Moulton are also listed as plaintiffs in the multi-district case.
Attorneys representing Decatur and other municipalities and counties in that case are “keeping us informed” about the case, said City Attorney Herman Marks. “They’re still negotiating. ... They’re making progress.”
Jackson said, “We view the settlement (in the multi-district litigation) as a very positive development and an acknowledgment by the defendants that they caused terrible harm to our communities with their conduct over the past two decades."
Montgomery-based Beasley Allen is representing several local governments in Alabama against opioid manufacturers and distributors, according to the law firm, which filed a complaint in March 2018 on behalf of Limestone County.
Attorneys associated with that case couldn’t be reached for comment on its status.