opioid painkillers

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Terre Haute and Vigo County have joined the growing list of Indiana cities and counties taking drug distributors and manufacturers to court over the opioid epidemic.

Terre Haute and Vigo County have joined the growing list of Indiana cities and counties taking drug distributors and manufacturers to court over the opioid epidemic.

Federal lawsuits were filed today in the Terre Haute Division of the Southern District of Indiana against 23 defendants accused of racketeering, corrupt business influence, negligence, deceptive trade practices, fraud and conspiracy to market and distribute opioids unlawfully in the community.

“It's clear the opioid epidemic has created a situation where municipalities are left with trying to find ways to deal with the scourge,” said attorney Chou-il Lee of Indianapolis law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister.

The lawsuits allege the manufacturers and distributors had the responsibility to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates, but failed to do that.

Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's prescribing rates for U.S. Counties in 2016, the suit states Vigo County had a prescription rate of about 104 per 100 people, which was well above the state average rate of 82.5.

“These wholesale distributors continued to push their substances into the community, willingly and knowingly becoming participants in the black market they were fueling,” the city's suit states.

In November, the city Board of Public Works and Safety agreed to retain the Taft law firm to file suit on behalf of the city to cover costs incurred by the fire and police departments in responding to opioid overdoses.

The county leaders also agreed to retain the Taft firm on behalf of the county's interests.

Lee pointed out proposals for a new Vigo County Jail includes areas related to opioid issues and addictions. The growing use and illegal sale of heroin in the community has been directly attributed to the opioid epidemic.

Many Indiana cities have already filed suit – including Fort Wayne, New Albany, Jeffersonville, Kokomo, Columbus and Muncie – against the same opioid manufacturers and distributors.

The federal complaints will be swept into a multi-district litigation that brings similar cases nationwide into the Northern District of Ohio, Lee said. That will allow consistency in settling each case, and damages will be based on the differing impact the opioid crisis proven in each area, he said.

Among the defendants named in the suits are Cardinal Health, Amersourcebergen Drug Corp., McKesson Corp., Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and others. The suits will be amended to include the same defendants nationwide, Lee said.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

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