Limestone County files lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- With opioid-related deaths at record levels, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found prescription opioids are a driving force in the 16-year increase in those deaths. A new federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Limestone County, taking aim at opioid manufacturers and distributors.

The CDC reports, “We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 16-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported.

Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999.”

Alabama ranks near the top in prescription opioid use nationally, and the highly addictive drugs bring with them a slew of consequences that state and local governments are coping with, lawyers for Limestone County say.

Ryan Kral, an attorney for Montgomery-based Beasley Allen is among the firm’s lawyers representing Limestone County. The firm has filed a number of opioid-related lawsuits in recent months on behalf of local governments and the state of Alabama.

Kral said the aim is to help Limestone County recoup costs associated with the widespread use and abuse of opioids and also to correct drug maker and drug distributor behavior.

Kral said the costs to local governments like Limestone are still being tallied up, but where the costs occur are well known.

“Increased law enforcement, increased court costs, increased rehabilitation and treatment costs,” Kral said. “We are seeking recoupment of those costs.”

Kral said the powerful opioids were carefully administered up until about 1999.

“Prescriptions were limited to short-term, end of life-care use,” Kral said.

But that changed, the lawsuit argues, and drug makers began making the case for wider use.

The lawsuits claim doctors relied on company representations about the drugs and patients have been paying the price.

The drugs in the lawsuit are legal and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Kral sees similarities between the new lawsuits and suits against big tobacco.

“The marketing tactics used by these companies had deceptively put forth both the benefits of opioids prescriptions as well as underplaying the risks,” he said.

The companies named in the lawsuit include, Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, LTD.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Noramco, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis PLS; Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Actavis, Inc.; Watson Laboratories, Inc.; Actavis, LLC; Actavis Pharm a, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc.; Mallinckrodt plc; Mallinckrodt LLC; McKesson Corporation; Cardinal Health, Inc.; and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation.

The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Alabama, but similar lawsuits have been filed across the U.S. The Limestone County lawsuit is among those expected to be transferred during the pre-trial phase to a federal court in Cleveland.

Kral said the normal procedure is if the case is going to trial, rather than settled or dismissed, it will be sent back to the jurisdiction where the lawsuit was filed.