Opioid distributors relieved of liability for Georgia families affected by addiction

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In a southeast Georgia courtroom last month, three generations of families testified about how their lives were ruined by prescription opioid addiction: A young man huddled with his brothers in a locked room while his father Looted while waving a gun. Home for bullets. One mother described holding her granddaughter while her dopey daughter rammed a car into the house. A young woman tells of her rape at age 14 by a drug dealer, while her mother nods.

They shrugged off the overdose deaths: grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses. and a baby whose mother injected Dilaudid during her pregnancy and who shook uncontrollably throughout his months of life.

The lawsuit was the first to come in lawsuits brought by individual victims of the opioid epidemic against drug companies. The victims got lost on Wednesday afternoon.

After barely a day and a half of deliberations, the jury found that the companies — two of the nation’s largest medical distributors, McKesson and Cardinal Health, and a third regional one — were not liable. The plaintiffs – 21 relatives from six families – filed the suit under a rarely used state law that allows relatives of drug addicts to sue drug dealers.

The outcome of the case underscores a startling truth. The pharmaceutical industry has committed more than $50 billion so far to settle lawsuits over its role in the opioid epidemic, but almost none of that goes to the families of those who died or are still battling addiction. Is not found.

The money pledged by manufacturers (such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson), distributors (AmerisourceBergen as well as McKesson and Cardinal) and national pharmacy chains (such as CVS and Walgreens) goes toward prevention and treatment programs in states, municipalities and tribes. has been set for. Thousands of opioid-related cases have been filed. Those cases were pushed forward largely based on the plight and statistics of families affected by the opioid crisis.

“Over the years it has been very difficult to explain to families why it is so difficult to win a lawsuit against the manufacturers,” said Jayne Conroy, an attorney who has settled with Purdue Pharma for 5,000 people who took OxyContin. Was prescribed as is, but became addicted, and is now a lead attorney for several local governments in opioid litigation nationwide.

The Georgia trial provided a brutal and often unbearably intimate picture of how prescription opioids — and eventually, heroin, meth and fentanyl — crushed entire households. But the proceedings also showed how challenging it is to draw a straight line between the misfortunes of a company and individual people in a complex distribution chain.

Georgia law states that relatives of drug users can sue for damages caused by “individual drug abusers.” Still, defense lawyers for distributors often turned the case into a referendum on addiction, saying that relatives suffered at the hands of those who chose pills over family.

F. Lane Hurd, III, a Cardinal attorney, said Brandi Turner, a mother of four daughters, took methadone from her mother to do housework and saw her father selling drugs. Ms. Turner stole from her children and often left them with a great-grandmother, who beat them until their feet bled.

“How do you hold a wholesale distributor responsible for that kind of history and activity?” Mr. Hurd asked the jurors.

During repeated cross-examination and in the closing arguments, he and others bore personal responsibility.

“Brandi Turner always had a choice,” Mr. Hurd said, on the stand relaying the same uproar to her daughters, aunt and sister, clearly saying she chose not to take drugs.

Trial Brunswick, Ga. It is a small coastal town surrounded by ranch and one-shop towns, in an area known as a hot spot along the “Blue Highway”—known for the color of OxyContin 30. has been named for. mg pills

The lawsuit, which was first filed in 2019, claimed that for more than a decade, distributors eagerly shipped five local pharmacies, ordering large amounts of opioids to small communities, often dangerously supplying them Distribute in combinations. The lead plaintiff was Joseph Poppel, a paramedic firefighter captain whose parents had died of overdose and who had rescued his niece from foster care while her sister, their mother, remained addicted.

Under Georgia law, called the Drug Dealer Liability Act, plaintiffs had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the distributors violated state and federal laws governing controlled substances. Then they had to show that an “individual drug abuser” in one family had filled opioid prescriptions at pharmacies that were shipped by distributors. In the end, they had to show that the relatives of the person who used those drugs were harmed.

The plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Jim Durham, a former acting US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, argued that the three companies had sidestepped their regulatory obligations.

“They chose to dump their drugs and flood this community,” Mr Durham said in closing arguments. “They found the pharmacies interested, and they turned on the taps. Why? Because there were millions of dollars in sales to be made.

Distributors, he continued, ignored flame-red flags: the infamous “Trinity” prescriptions — such as OxyContin, Xanax and muscle relaxers — written by out-of-state pill mill doctors 100 miles away; cash paying customers; Pharmacy parking lots are full of people bartering and selling pill bags.

For example, in 2011, Mr. Durham said, Cardinal sold 290,000 oxycodone pills to a Darien pharmacy. Darien, Ga., has a population of about 1,700.

Even though the companies presented increasingly strict surveillance policies to the DEA, Durham said, they did not act on them.

Lawyers for the companies argued that opioid thresholds were established by the DEA each year, the companies said, prohibiting them from checking pharmacy prescribing data for obvious problems. In hindsight, he added, given what is now known about the powerfully addictive properties of opioids, perhaps distributors would have been much quicker to challenge pharmacies’ requests for larger sizes. But for years, doctors were urged to aggressively treat pain with prescription opioids. And, the lawyers said, it was not the wholesale distributors’ responsibility to second-guess prescribers or weed out the bad ones.

Company lawyers cited several other factors for the irrepressible suffering of the families: street drug dealers; alcohol; other medicines; the Sacklers, owners of Purdue Pharma; Federal Drug Administration; Greedy pharmacist and doctor. (Prior to trial, the independent pharmacies settled for an undisclosed amount. Several pill mill doctors lost their licenses and served federal sentences.)

And lawyers emphasize patterns of dysfunction in each family, including generational substance abuse, sexual victimization, domestic violence, mental health disorders and women’s terrible preference for male companionship.

In a statement, McKesson called the jury’s verdict a “correct result based on the law and the evidence presented at trial.” The cardinal said the decision “affirms that the law that applies to street dealers of illegal drugs cannot be used in a misguided attack on DEA-registered wholesale distributors of FDA-approved drugs.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth C. Burch, an expert on mass atrocities at the University of Georgia School of Law, said that plaintiffs take great personal risk in going to trial. He lauded their determination and that of their lawyers.

“Without a test, you wouldn’t know about the number of bullets going into this area, and we wouldn’t know about this sad part of people’s lives,” she said.

She said that the individuals themselves have paid the price for exposing their lives to such public scrutiny. “But I think it’s important for the public to understand what the scope of opioid destruction looks like and that should be recorded for history.”

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