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Paper Seeks to Unseal Lawsuit

Motion: Make records public in opioid case

Tennesseans deserve to know the details on who’s to blame for the opioid epidemic that’s left a trail of addiction, crime, death and costs to taxpayers across the state, the Knoxville News Sentinel argues in a motion to unseal the state’s latest lawsuit against another pharmaceutical giant.

The news organization’s motion, filed Thursday, asks a judge to make public all records and hearings in the lawsuit filed earlier this month in Knox County Circuit Court under the state Consumer Protection Act against Endo Pharmaceuticals, maker of the painkiller Opana.

“In an issue of critical public health,

it’s our contention a proceeding like this should be open from the get-go,” said Joel Christopher, editor of the News Sentinel. “There’s already a precedent established for this to be conducted in full public view.”

Latest in a trend

The complaint against Endo marks the second such lawsuit filed in Knox County by Tennessee’s attorney general, Herbert Slatery III. A similar lawsuit last year accused Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, of pushing its drug on the state’s physicians under a marketing campaign that falsely billed the pills as “hope in a bottle,” free from dangers of addiction.

Slatery filed both lawsuits under temporary seal because the drugmakers claimed the complaints contained trade secrets and other proprietary information.

Purdue dropped its claim in the face of a challenge by the News Sentinel and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

Endo has until next week to make its case for keeping the 180-page complaint in the latest lawsuit under wraps.

Patent or profits?

Opana is no longer on the market. Endo pulled it from pharmacy shelves in 2017 at the FDA’s request.

That move didn’t come soon enough to spare Tennessee from a “wave of addiction, overdoses, overdose deaths” and the spread of bloodborne diseases like hepatitis C that swept the state since Opana hit drugstore counters in 2006, according to Slatery. The fallout “likely inflicted more harm on Tennessee than any other state,” Slatery has said.

Endo hasn’t filed a response to the lawsuit. The News Sentinel’s motion questions whether the company seeks secrecy more for the sake of profits than to protect any patents or trade secrets.

The company in regulatory filings blamed a 15% decline in revenue last year on “public concern around the abuse of opioids,” “media stories regarding prescription drug abuse” and “press organizations (that) have and will likely continue to report on these issues ... (which) may result in adverse publicity for manufacturers, including us.”

Time-released painkillers like Opana and Oxycontin were meant to offer relief from chronic pain for the elderly, the aching, the crippled and the dying. But addicts quickly figured out how to crush the pills, then snort or inject them for an instant high and often a fatal overdose.

Opana’s makers claimed the drug, twice as potent as Oxycontin, produced less of a high, had been proven “crush resistant” and was generally safer — all false, according to Slatery.

The lawsuit seeks fines and damages from Endo but doesn’t specify a total. No hearing on the lawsuit has been set.

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