Panola County sues opioid manufacturers, joining growing list of East Texas plaintiffs

By: Meredith Shamburger - Longview News-Journal
 
CARTHAGE — Panola County has joined a growing list of East Texas counties that are suing opioid manufacturers, claiming they misled doctors and created an ongoing public health and safety crisis.
 
A federal lawsuit on behalf of the county, filed May 16, says opioid manufacturers “downplayed the serious risk of addiction; promoted and exaggerated the concept of ‘pseudoaddiction’ thereby advocating that the signs of addiction should be treated with more opioids; exaggerated the effectiveness of screening tools in preventing addiction; claimed that opioid dependence and withdrawal are easily managed; denied the risks of higher opioid dosages; and exaggerated the effectiveness of ‘abuse-deterrent’ opioid formulations to prevent abuse and addiction.”
 
Panola County Judge LeeAnn Jones said the opioid problem is “bigger than you know.”
 
“The DA and sheriff’s office see it,” she said. “And of course, you see tragic stories on Facebook all the time of people who are addicted.”
 
Opioids are legally prescribed to reduce pain, with common drugs being hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin) and morphine.
 
Panola follows several other area counties that filed suits against opioid manufacturers, including Harrison, Marion, Upshur, Rusk and Smith counties. Many of those other counties’ lawsuits also have been filed in federal court. Texas is part of a 41-state investigation of companies that manufacture or sell opioids. The East Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse notes Panola County is part of a region that “has astonishingly high numbers for prescription drug use,” and students in the area have the highest reported use rate in Texas in codeine cough syrup and OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet and Hydrocodone.
 
Panola County filed suit against Purdue Pharma, Purdue Pharma, The Purdue Frederick Co., Johnson & Johnson, Janseen Pharmaceuticals, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Endo Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Endo Health Solutions. Panola County officials say problems stemming from opioid addiction include lost of productivity, increased social services, increased health insurance costs, an increased criminal justice presence and a strain on judicial resources and substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation.
 
Panola County was contacted by Love Law Firm out of Henderson, which made a presentation to the Commissioners Court, Jones said. Love Law Firm is not charging the county for its services; it will collect a percentage of any monies awarded to the county when the lawsuit ends, Jones said.