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Alabama hospitals file lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors

A group of 21 Alabama hospitals have filed a lawsuit against opioid makers and distributors, becoming the latest in a long line of hospitals across the country taking the battle over the opioid epidemic to the courts.

On Sept. 3 the 21 plaintiffs filed a civil suit in the Circuit Court of Conecuh County that alleges that the long list of defendants – including Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, CVS, WalMart and Walgreens – fueled the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

The complaint states that overdose deaths in Alabama sharply increased from 2013 to 2014, when 422 overdose deaths were the result of opioid use. In 2017 Alabama had the highest rate of opioid prescriptions per population than any other state, and it was almost twice the national average.

From 2006 to 2012 there were 6.3 million opioid pain pills distributed throughout Conecuh County, which was enough to supply 67 pills for every Alabamian each of those years. 2.6 million of those pills were distributed by CVS, according to the complaint.

Drug manufacturers deceptively downplayed the risk of addiction, according to the lawsuit, and the distributors allowed an “overprescription” of the deadly drugs.

“Defendants succeeded. Opioid abuse has quickly become one of the nation’s most pressing health management issues, not only because of its toll on patients, but increasingly because of the financial impact on hospitals and the rest of the healthcare system,” the complaint states.

In a press release Tuesday on the lawsuit Robert King, an attorney for the Plaintiffs, said the opioid crisis resulted in staggering financial, operational and emotional expenses for hospitals.

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“The deceptive marketing efforts of the defendants substantially contributed to an explosion in the use of opioids across the country – and the aftereffects are felt in hospitals every single day,” King said. 

Dozens of hospitals in Arizona, West Virginia and Texas have already filed similar lawsuits. In Kentucky 23 hospitals filed a lawsuit  last week against opioid manufacturers and distributors. 

A judge in Oklahoma in August ruled that drugmaker Johnson & Johnson must pay the state $572 million for the company’s role in the state’s opioid crisis, according to NPR. 

On the state level, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in June voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit against several opioid companies, which the state had filed in February.   

The judge in Alabama’s case, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of the Northern District of Ohio, had questioned whether he had jurisdiction to rule in Alabama’s case, according to Law.com

Marshall, in his motion to dismiss the state’s case, told the court that it was in Alabama’s best interest to drop the lawsuit and have the opportunity to refile in a different court rather than let the jurisdictional issue remain unsettled. 

Judge Polster has recommended for settlement talks and an unprecedented “negotiation class” among state attorney generals and defendants in the many cases. 

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“Everyone knows that trying 2,500 cases would sink the state and federal judiciaries, but also the amount of private resources would also be staggering and no one would want that,” judge Polster told lawyers for both sides in a hearing in August, according to Legal Newsline

 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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