Chattooga and Whitfield counties and the city of Cartersville also are plaintiffs in the suit filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia, in Rome.
"This is really a manufactured crisis, driven by greed," attorney Bob Finnell said in talks with local officials last week.
Finnell and Andy Davis of Brinson, Askew, Berry et al — also in Rome — are taking the lead on the 243-page class-action complaint filed by a team of five law firms, including two in Atlanta and one in Dalton. Davis said it would first be sent to a federal district court in Ohio, where claims from across the nation are being consolidated.
"The idea is to let one judge decide all common issues of law and fact," Davis said. "Then the cases could be sent back to complete the litigation or they could be settled there."
Floyd County Commissioners spent several weeks getting input from local hospitals and physicians before signing on to the action against the big pharmaceutical companies. Finnell said the suit is narrowly directed.
"The manufacturers aggressively promoted and pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would rarely succumb to drug addiction. ... turning patients into drug addicts for their own corporate profit," the suit reads.
It also contends that the major distributors knew the number of prescriptions was skyrocketing — in some cases, including Floyd, to more than one for every single resident in the county.
"The distributors and manufacturers intentionally and/or unlawfully breached their legal duties under federal and state law to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse, and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids," it states.
The lawsuit contends, and local officials agree, that the cities and counties have incurred direct damages from the costs of providing medical care for residents who are addicted, overdose or die.
It also cites costs for rehabilitation and counseling, treatment of babies born addicted, law enforcement and public safety activities, and care for children whose parents "suffer from opioid-related disability or incapacitation."
Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, is the first-named defendant in the suit. It notes that national annual sales of the painkiller rose from $800 million in 2006 to more than $2 billion from 2009 onward.
Other named manufacturers and distributors are cited as seeing similar, medically unwarranted, increases in sales, with some settling other complaints accusing them of illegal marketing tactics under the law.
"Europe's use of opioid pain medication is flat, while use in the United States shows a steep increase," Finnell told Floyd County Commissioners. "This is a very recent phenomenon here."
The suit is asking the court to halt the companies' "unfair or deceptive practices" and order them to abate the public health crisis.
It's seeking compensation for the plaintiffs' actual costs of dealing with the epidemic locally, including interest; the establishment of an "abatement trust fund" similar to that in the tobacco company settlement; punitive damages; attorneys' fees; and "all other relief as provided by law and/or as the Court deems appropriate and just."