Northeast Tennessee district attorneys sue opioid manufacturers on behalf of ‘Baby Doe’


JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Three area attorneys general representing the first, second and third districts in northeast Tennessee met at Niswonger’s Children’s Hospital In Johnson City to publically address the opioid crisis in northeast Tennessee and its effects on the very young, especially babies.

The district attorneys general, Barry Staubus, Tony Clark and Dan Armstrong announced a joint lawsuit, filed on on behalf of a local baby born exposed to drugs. The attorneys are suing prescription opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P., its related companies, Mallinckrodt PLC and Endo Pharmaceuticals. The more than 80-pages-long lawsuit also lists a local clinic and two convicted opioid dealers as defendants.

“We’ve all heard the same stories, seen the same problems, seen the same devastating effects, and we all believed we should join together in this lawsuit for Northeast Tennessee,” Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said.

Filed in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport Tuesday morning, the lawsuit names the fourth plaintiff as ‘Baby Doe.’

The district attorneys say, “Baby Doe is a victim of the opioid crisis. He was born hooked on opioids and forced to endure a painful start to his life, crying excessively, arching his back and refusing to feed”. The attorneys said he was weaned from his addiction with morphine, but he suffers from numerous health and learning disabilities.

The attorneys general said, “We are filing suit on behalf of our plaintiff, Baby Doe, who was exposed to the drugs OxyContin and Roxicodone in utero because of his mother’s addiction to purchase and use of those illegal drugs. That exposure provides him the right to sue for damages under the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act (DDLA).”

The lawsuit alleges that:

  • Purdue Pharma embarked on fraudulent campaign to convince physicians that OxyContin created minimal risk of addiction

  • As Purdue’s marketing efforts demonstrated success in the form of rapid increase in opioid prescriptions and that Mallinckrodt, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and other opioid manufacturers joined Purdue in its fraudulent scheme;

  • Purdue’s efforts and those of the other defendants to mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and addictive nature of, opioid drugs led to an opioid epidemic, created an environment for thousands of individuals in Tennessee to become addicted to opioids, and fueled a dramatic increase in Sullivan County, Tennessee, in the number ofindividuals exposed to, and addicted to, OxyContin, Roxicodone®, Opana ER and other opioids, and;

  • The police departments, schools, district attorneys’ offices, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and taxpayers of the state of Tennessee and Sullivan County will bear the financial burden of Purdue’s fraudulent campaign for decades to come.

When News Channel 11 asked Gerard Stranch, Managing Partner of Branchstetter, Stranch & Jennings, why they filed the suit, he said, “There is no way we are going to get a change without that. This is a problem that has been 20 or 30 years in the making, and it’s going to take a period of time and bold decisions and hard work to make a change immediately.”

Stranch, who said he is serving as the lead lawyer on the case, said the lawsuit is the first step. “There will be additional defendants in the future as we identify them, and we’re going to continue the litigation front as long as it takes to get relief and to stop the flood of illegal drugs in this community,” Stranch said.

“Tennessee has the second-highest rate of opioid addiction in the nation, as noted in the lawsuit, and Sullivan County is ground zero for opioid addiction in our state,” said Barry Staubus, district attorney general for Tennessee’s Second Judicial District. “This region has experienced devastating consequences as a result of the opioid epidemic. Too many of our citizen’s lives have been turned upside down as a result of opioid abuse and far too many have actually lost their lives from an overdose.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Health from January 2017 to April 2017, about 48 of every 1,000 births in Sullivan County were Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) cases.

Doctors say children born with NAS experience agonizing withdrawal symptoms as their bodies emerge from the influence of drugs.

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of babies born with NAS as a direct result of opioid addiction,” says Lisa Carter, CEO of Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “This has become a nationwide epidemic that is most widespread right here in Northeast Tennessee.”

In addition, News Channel 11 has reported on numerous stories related to NAS. See also: 

The lawsuit seeks damages what it calls breaches of statutory and common law, restitution to the plaintiffs, and an injunction to stop what it calls “the flood of opioids to the region.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and  Substance Abuse Services, the average cost of care fore babies born with NAS is about 10 times more that the cost of caring for babies born without NAS.

The state reports the average cost to stabilize a NAS newborn is nearly $63,000. The average cost ot care for a non-NAS newborn is $7200.

In 2013, the cost of care for the 660 babies born with NAS was  $41.4 million  — compared to $4.79 million for the same number of babies born without NAS.

According to the lawsuit filed in Sullivan County, Oxycontin is Purdue’s largest selling opioid – fluctuating between $2.47 billion and $2.99 billion in annual sales per year since 2009.

Tennessee doctors in 2015 wrote more than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions — that’s 1.18 for every man, woman and child in the state – says the lawsuit.

In 2015, says the lawsuit, 71.3% of autopsied deaths in Sullivan County directly involved opioids.Purdue Pharma faces a lawsuit in Everett, Washington 

Purdue Pharm is also being sue by the city of Everett, Washington. The lawsuit, filed in January of this year alleges that Purdue knowingly, recklessly, and negligently supplied Oxycontin to suspicious doctors and pharmacies and enabled the illegal diversion into the black market.

It also alleges its deceptive practices have resulted in criminal guilty plea & numerous settlements with various states.The city of Everett says it has spent and will need to continue to spend a significant amount of taxpayer dollars combatting Oxycontin abuse and addiction. The lawsuit says Purdue’s conduct fueled a heroin crisis in Everett because heroin has a similar high but at a lower street price. In addition, the lawsuit says they is the extremely high potential to become addictive, particularly when used for extended periods. As users build up a tolerance, the lawsuit says, requiring larger doses to meet their needs.

The city is accusing Purdue Pharma of negligence, public nuisance, violating the consumer protection act, unjust enrichment and it is seeking punitive damages.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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