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Tennessee District Attorneys joining nationwide legal challenge against major drug makers

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Tennessee has the second highest statewide opioid prescription rate, and that's a big part of the reason three local district attorneys are joining a nationwide legal challenge against major drug makers.

The prosecutors' suit claims the makers of several opioid drugs falsely advertised those medications, causing an addiction crisis. They say the companies not only created an unnecessary opioid marketplace, but profited from it too.

According to Tennessee's Health Department, overdose deaths in the Volunteer State increased by more than 250 percent between 2005 and 2015. That same report says 72 percent of those overdose deaths in 2015 were a direct result of opioids.

"Opioids are ripping apart the fabric of our community in Tennessee," Gerard Stranch, a lawyer who helped craft the lawsuit, says.

We dug through the lawsuit and found out it mainly targets Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt, and Endo Pharmaceuticals, claiming they misled doctors and the public about the need for and the addiction dangers of opioids.

"Those three are the main participants in the market that contributed to the fraudulent campaign that opioids are safe," Stranch says.

The lawsuit also seeks a court order to stop the flood of opioids and seeks unspecified damages from the companies.

"We're seeking to reimburse the county for the losses that I've outlined," Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus says. "From our societal costs, criminal justice costs, rehabilitation costs, and medical costs."

Standing up with prosecutors on Tuesday was Chris Miller, whose adopted son was born addicted to drugs.

"I don't know that, whether it is the drug manufacturers or their positions involved, if they truly understand, see it and feel it like some of us who have been through that," Miller says.

The fourth plaintiff listed on the lawsuit is "Baby Doe," representing thousands of babies born addicted to opioids in Tennessee every year.

Lisa Carter from Niswonger Children's Hospital says on average, it costs 10 times more to stabilize a baby with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome than it does to care for a non-NAS baby. TennCare records show that nearly out out of every four babies born with NAS in 2012 were placed in the custody of the Department of Children's Service within a year. The issue is so prevalent in our area that Niswonger Children's Hospital opened a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in May to care for the increase in babies suffering from NAS.

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