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City of Savannah Public Communications

Posted on: April 18, 2018

City Files Suit Against Opioid Manufacturers

Office of Public Communications


April 18, 2018

For Immediate Release

City Files Suit Against Opioid Manufacturers

SAVANNAH, GA (April 18, 2018) — After conducting an investigation into the allegedly deceptive marketing of prescription opioid painkillers by more than 20 drug manufacturers and distributors, including the makers of OxyContin and other opioid products, Mayor Eddie DeLoach announced today that the City of Savannah has filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division.

“Like much of the nation, Savannah has felt the sting of the opioid crisis. We have grieved with each passing death, and suffered losses both here and throughout the State of Georgia as the promise that each life had in store was taken from us too soon due to prescription opioid abuse,” said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach.

“As Georgia’s oldest city, Savannah has a long and storied history, and has, in many ways, set a shining example in paving the way toward a brighter future for the people of our city and state. We owe it to our citizens to set the standard now and do all that we can to protect them as we find our way out of this urgent public health crisis. The opioid epidemic has negatively affected many aspects of our city, including financially, as we are forced to allocate an increasing amount of resources to law enforcement, public health, public assistance, emergency care and other services to those in need and impacted by this epidemic. Everything that we have learned about the opioid crisis points to the pharmaceutical industry as being largely responsible for where we are today. If someone must step up in order to help put a stop to the devastation that opioid abuse has inflicted on our nation, state, and city, Savannah is proud to do so.”

Opioid Impacts in Savannah and Georgia: 

Georgia has an opioid prescription rate of 90.7 per 100 persons, which ranks eighteenth in the country (U.S. median rate: 82.5).

According to the CDC, from 2001 to 2015, Georgia’s death rate due to opioid overdoses increased nearly 400 percent.

The rate of opioid prescriptions per 100 persons in Chatham County is far greater than the national average.

Between 2006 and 2016, Chatham County experienced an annual rate as high as 104.5 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons within the County, and averaged 96 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons within the County during this period.

The suit names as defendants some of the country’s largest drug manufacturers and their subsidiaries, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Watson Laboratories, Actavis, and Mallinckrodt. The suit also names three of the largest distributors of prescription opioids, McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc.

The suit alleges these companies engaged in false and deceptive marketing regarding the risks of using opioid painkillers, downplayed the serious risk of addiction, and unlawfully distributed opioids into Savannah without reporting or stopping suspicious orders. The city alleges the Defendants created a public nuisance, violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), were negligent, violated the Georgia Deceptive Trade Practices Act, made False Statement in Advertising and violated a Legal Duty Owed to the City of Savannah.

As a result, the city seeks to hold the manufacturers and distributors accountable for their alleged, unlawful conduct; and seeks the costs to abate the opioid epidemic created by Defendants’ conduct. Additionally, the City seeks compensatory damages for its costs related to the opioid epidemic, and punitive damages from the Defendants to deter Defendants from engaging in such conduct in the future.

Prescription opioids, or narcotics, are derived from and possess properties similar to opium and heroin. The defendants manufacture market, sell or distribute prescription opioid pain medications, including brand-name drugs: OxyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid/Dilaudid HP, Butrans, Hysingla ER, and Targiniq ER in the United States. OxyContin is Purdue’s best-selling opioid. Since 2009, Purdue’s annual nationwide sales of OxyContin have fluctuated between $2.47 billion and $2.99 billion, up four-fold from its 2006 sales of $800 million. OxyContin constitutes roughly 30% of the entire market for analgesic drugs (painkillers).

Until the mid-1990s, opioids were widely thought to be too addictive for use for chronic pain conditions, which would require long-term use of the drugs at increasingly high doses. The city claims that for these conditions, the risks of addiction and other side effects outweighed any benefit from the drugs. For the last two decades, however, the suit claims that the defendants sought successfully to turn that consensus on its head, primarily by minimizing and understating the risk of addiction and overstating the benefits of using opioids long-term.

The suit claims that major manufacturers of prescription opioids, in order to expand their market and profits, orchestrated a deceptive marketing scheme to change the perception of opioids to permit and encourage the use of opioids long-term for widespread chronic conditions, such as back pain, migraines, and arthritis, rather than just limit the use to short-term, acute pain. Defendants’ deceptive marketing caused prescribing of opioids to skyrocket, according to the lawsuit.

The city is represented by Brooks Stillwell and Jennifer Herman of the Office of the City Attorney, John Suthers and Adam Harper of Suthers Law Firm in Savannah, and Joe Rice, Linda Singer, Lisa Saltzburg and Elizabeth Smith of Motley Rice LLC of Mt. Pleasant, SC and Washington, DC.

View the Opioid Civil Cover Sheet

View the Opiod Complaint

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