Nashville Sues Opioid Manufacturers to Recoup Costs of Fighting Epidemic
Metro government filed suit late Friday against multiple manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids, making Nashville the latest local municipality in Tennessee to turn to court to try to recover public dollars spent in the national opioid epidemic.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, had been expected after the Metro Council on Tuesday finalized approval of a contract with Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, a law firm that will litigate the case for Metro.
The same law firm, which has an office in Nashville, filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of Smith County earlier in the week.
The Nashville lawsuit comes just five months after the 22-year-old son of Mayor Megan Barry, Max Barry, died in July from a drug overdose that included multiple opioids. The mayor's office has said the administration was considering the legal action before Max's death.
The suit alleges the opioid companies "systematically and repeatedly disregarded the safety of their customers and the public” through misleading promotion and over-supplying of opioids. Under the law, these companies are supposed to monitor and report dangerous behavior, but Metro has argued they failed to do so in favor of maximizing profits.
It also claims that marketing schemes — not a medical breakthrough — led to an increase in opioids being prescribed for chronic pain. Metro has accused the defendants of downplaying the risk of addiction to opioids, promoting the idea that signs of addiction should be treated with more addiction, and exaggerating the effectiveness of screening tools to prevent addiction, among other claims.
"Cities like Nashville and their taxpayers have borne the cost of the opioid epidemic for far too long while the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, consisting of manufacturers and distributors, has reaped astronomical profits," said attorney Kenny Byrd, a partner at Lieff Cabraser. "It can't be business as usual anymore and those industries need to be held accountable for the millions of dollars of taxpayer money that goes to treat the epidemic."
Barry was unavailable for comment.
The Tennessean was unable reach defendants for comment.
The lawsuit is expected to be transferred to the U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio., where hundreds of similar cases have been sent.
Opioids kill 100 Americans daily, according to plaintiffs, costing nearly $80 billion per year in lost productivity.
Metro Council attorney Mike Jameson, in a legal analysis before Metro tapped outside legal counsel, said the "economic impacts" of opioid addiction on Metro government includes drug addiction treatment, emergency room visits, law enforcement response, incarceration, child abuse and neglect, and the cost for removing children from parental custody, as well as medical treatment for prenatal opioid exposure.
Barry was unavailable to comment on the city's lawsuit.
Defendants in Metro's lawsuit include: Purdue Pharma, Cephalon Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Noramco, Endo Health Solutions, Mallinckrodt Plc, Allergan PLC, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Watson Laboratories, Actavis LLC, Insys Therapeutics, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., and McKesson Corporation.
“Our city has been devastated by opioid addiction and all its related harms,” attorney Mark Chalos, a partner at Lieff Cabraser, said. “What we have seen in Nashville and throughout our region, is millions of pills being sold in communities where there aren’t millions of people.
"It is time the opioid manufacturers and distributors are held accountable for their wrongful conduct that has destroyed families and cost untold millions of taxpayer dollars in Nashville, across Tennessee, and throughout the U.S.”
The city's agreement with Lieff Cabraser had been held up in the council for the past month amid a dispute with council members over whether the Barry administration actively recruited minority-led law firms for the bid. Participation of minority-owned companies in Metro business has lagged.
Easing some of the pushback, Metro has now tapped Manson Johnson Conner PLLC, one of the city's largest African-American-led laws firms, to serve as co-counsel.