Phenix City to join class action opioid lawsuit

The City of Phenix City is set to join a class action opioids lawsuit.

The Phenix City Council voted Monday to ratify a resolution to let the mayor and city manager enter an agreement with a specialized law firm to represent the city in the matter.

The firm will be Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, PA., of Pensacola, Fla. City Attorney Jimmy Graham explained in a brief interview Monday that, basically, the city is joining a lawsuit that was filed this year.

“We’ve had it for about a month,” he said of related information. Essentially, the city will be claiming damages, along with others, in a lawsuit against opioid pharmaceutical manufacturers and their national “middle man” agents – not local distributors like in-town pharmacies, etc.

Graham provided The Citizen a copy of the lawsuit he was referencing.

It is filed in The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division. The lawsuit involves The City of Birmingham as plaintiff and lists three major prescription drug wholesalers as defendants, each listed as having distribution centers in Alabama.

The case is about preventing prescription opioids – controlled substances – from flooding into the illegal market, and the damage that The City of Birmingham claims has occurred and is occurring as a result. The case seeks to hold the defendants responsible for the claims listed in the court documents.

According to the furnished court papers, the complaint regards public nuisance; drug related nuisance; violations of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; and negligence. A jury trial is demanded.

The court papers state, “[…] The United States consumes opioid pain relievers at a greater rate than any other nation. Alabama has an opioid prescription rate of 142.9 per 100 persons, the highest in the country (U.S. median rate: 82.5), and a benzodiazepine prescription rate of 61.9 per 100 persons which ranks second nationally (U.S. media rate: 37.6). According to a recent study by Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) more than twenty-six (26%) of its Alabama commercially-insured members filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015. […]”

Elsewhere, the papers essentially claim that the diversion of “dangerous, highly addictive opioids” is the cause of Birmingham’s continuing opioid problem, and also its heroin problem. (The court papers assert heroin is pharmacologically similar to prescription opioids and that data ties past abuse of prescription opioids to increased risk for starting use of heroin).

According to the papers, “[…] While the opioid epidemic is a national tragedy, the statistics are particularly tragic in Alabama and The City of Birmingham […]” and that “[…] Opioid addiction is now the primary reason that Alabamans seek substance abuse treatment.”

The City of Birmingham is seeking relief in multiple forms, rooted in an effort to hold the defendants responsible for the claims listed in the filed papers.

Generally speaking, Graham estimated a case of this magnitude could possibly take three to five years to be fully resolved.