21 Alabama hospitals file suit against opioid makers

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Twenty-one hospitals in Alabama, including Crestwood in Huntsville, are suing some of the makers of opioid-based drugs.

Those manufacturers include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories and more than 40 other companies.

Al.com reports that the suit was filed September 10th and it claims the drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers took part in a practice of making false assurances about addiction risks associated with opioid products for decades.

The suit also claims the companies influenced physicians and health care providers to increase prescription patterns by using deceptive marketing strategies

They claim that the opioid epidemic has now caused the hospitals to make large investments in people, processes, and facilities in order to care for patients with health problems associated with opioid addiction.

"Alabama has the highest opioid prescription rate in the country. Almost twice the national rate," said plaintiff's attorney Chris King.

The cost from the opioid epidemic to the health care system is estimated by industry analysts to be around $215.7 billion from 2001 to 2017. The costs are mainly attributed to overdose-related emergency department visits.

This case involving Alabama hospitals is similar to hundreds of other ones filed by hospitals across the country.

Opioids have long been used for acute pain after a traumatic injury and for treating cancer patient pain but the suit says opioid makers wanted to expand the market.

They began lobbying to treat, "What they called chronic pain care," said King. "Manufacturers increased their sales by about 300 percent.

The lawsuit says there were more than 6.5 million opioid prescriptions filled in in Alabama in 2015.

That's a total of 437 million pills.

Attorney Chris King represents the hospitals behind the suit and says pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies knew when the problems began.

They were required to report suspicious sales, but King says that, "pharmacies in all states, you can look at that, would be sending out 1.6 million prescriptions in a county that has 12,000 people."

Hospitals are now dealing with the costs of treating opioid-addicted patients which add up to billions of dollars. King says the damages collected in the lawsuit will be used to help address the crisis.

"How can you effectively stop this problem? Help people with addiction, help people with substance use disorders, prevent deaths."

It'll take a lot of work "That plan is over a thousand pages long."

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