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Arkansas Cities, Counties Sue Drug Manufacturers Involved In Opioid Crisis

Daniel Breen

Cities and counties across Arkansas are joining in a state lawsuit against drug manufacturers, distributors, and other parties involved in the opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit filed last week in Crittenden County Circuit Court comes after the Arkansas Municipal League filed a federal lawsuit against 13 major drug manufacturers and distributors last December. The state lawsuit targets 65 defendants ranging from retailers to pharmacies and individual doctors.

“If we fail, we will be the first generation that has not left a better place for the next generation,” Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane said. “It is so urgent that we stop the carnage, and together we can do just that.”

The suit comes after the Arkansas Municipal League filed a federal lawsuit against 13 major drug manufacturers and distributors last December, which was later withdrawn. Municipal League Executive Director Don Zimmerman says this latest lawsuit is a joint effort between his group and the Association of Arkansas Counties.

“We’re at the forefront of a national epidemic,” Zimmerman said. “[The lawsuit] alleges that the named defendants were major contributors to this crisis we have in Arkansas. So the theory of the case is that we’re trying to get the people who created the problem to help finance the solutions to the problem.”

Zimmerman noted roughly 90 percent of the state’s population is represented in the lawsuit, with 72 counties and 15 cities bringing the suit against the manufacturers.

“Everybody in the state is represented in this case, so we’re optimistic,” Zimmerman said. “We think it’s going to be a great thing for Arkansas. It’s going to reverse this terrible epidemic we’ve got, and get us on the right way.”

According to a press release, Arkansas has seen a nearly 300 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths since 2000, and ranks second in the nation for opioid prescribing rates.

UPDATE: The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a national trade association representing distributors named in the state lawsuit, sent KUAR this statement from their senior vice president:

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.” -- John Parker, SVP, Healthcare Distribution Alliance  

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.
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