Tennessee Is Third State To Sue Pharmaceutical Companies for Raging Heroin Epidemic

Pharmaceutical companies are facing a new backlash, and not because of astronomical drug prices. In 2015, the State of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for adding fuel to the fire of the national opioid epidemic. And just this past May, the State of Ohio followed suit, charging five pharmaceutical companies for failing to inform doctors of the addictive nature of their drugs. Now, as of June 13th, Tennessee has joined the action.

A lawsuit was filed against the companies Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt, and Endo Pharmaceuticals by district attorney generals who represent nine Tennessee counties. According to USA Today, “The lawsuit seeks to hold the drugmakers responsible for the opioid epidemic in Tennessee by labeling them as drug dealers and accusing them of lying about the addictive properties of opiates and aggressively pushing the drugs as miracle cures for all manner of pain.” Not only are the pharmaceutical companies being sued for their lack of information regarding the drugs’ addictive properties, but they’re also being reprimanded for alleged fraud.

One of the plaintiffs in the Tennessee case is known as Baby Doe, a boy born in 2015 who became addicted to opiates via his mother while in utero. Baby Doe’s mother, known as “Mary Doe,” became addicted to opiates in Sullivan County, which is now being represented as one of the three judicial districts in the case.

The Tennessee lawsuit aims to prosecute the pharmaceutical companies under the 2005 Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act. USA Today reports, “The statute was dubbed the ‘crack tax’ law after it was passed because it allowed civil action against street drug dealers, many of whom were peddling crack. Authorities already could seize profits from convicted drug dealers under criminal forfeiture laws.”

However, the drug dealers that were sent to prison didn’t have any money from which the state could use to repair damages. The pharmaceutical companies do, racking up billions of dollars from the narcotic painkiller market every year.

The Tennessee lawsuit seeks to label the accused pharmaceutical companies as drug dealers under the so called ‘Crack Law.’ Of course, because of the stigma surround mental health and addiction, some people believe opioid addicts bring their troubles upon themselves. Yet non-medical, abstinence-based treatments for opiate addiction are only between 5-10% effective.

Sadly, in many cases patients who legally use prescription painkillers were not informed of their addictive qualities. Or, if they were, they believed they would not be among those who are addicted.

As the opioid and heroin epidemic worsens, the health care industry is grappling with difficult questions. In a famous 2014 report on legally prescriped painkillers, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that U.S. doctors and pharmaceutical companies dished out a mind boggling number of pills over the last decade.

Per the report: “Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.”

One doctor in particular, Dr. Hershel Jick, admits to being a part of the epidemic, citing a paragraph he wrote in a 1980 letter in the New England Journal of Medicine claiming that those who did not have a history of addiction would only become addicted to opioids in rare cases. However, the letter was not intended as a means of advertising for opiates.

Even so, Jick says pharmaceutical companies used his letter for years to push highly addictive (and highly profitable) pills on the public.

As Jick said to NPR, “The letter wasn’t of value to health and medicine in and of itself. So if I could take it back — if I knew then what I know now, I would never have published it. It wasn’t worth it.”

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