20 Mississippi hospitals band together to sue opioid-supplying companies like Walmart, Purdue

Twenty Mississippi hospitals have filed a civil lawsuit against the companies that manufacture and distribute opioids and drugstore chains such as Walmart, Walgreens and CVS pharmacies that sell opioid-based drugs.

Filed Wednesday in Jackson County Chancery Court, the lawsuit alleges the companies misrepresented the addiction risks associated with opioid products through deceptive marketing tactics.

The suit names Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Amerisource Bergen and more than 30 other companies that supply Oxycontin, Percoset, Vicodin and other opioids.

“Their unlawful efforts have resulted in widespread addiction, suffering and loss of life in communities across the country,” according to a press release announcing the lawsuit. Mississippi hospitals have assumed most of the financial burden for care and treatment, the suit says.

The 286-page lawsuit was filed on behalf of the hospitals by Barrett Law Group of Lexington, Mississippi.

Hospitals across the country have filed similar lawsuits.

South Mississippi hospitals that joined the lawsuit are:

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport

Merit Health Biloxi

Singing River Health System

Mississippi is one of the top five states for opioid distribution per capita, according to the lawsuit, with 92.9 prescriptions written for every 100 people in 2017, compared to the national average of 58.7 per 100.

Enough opioids were distributed in Mississippi in 2018 to provide every adult and child with 50 doses each, the lawsuit says.

Among the claims are the companies “knowingly and intentionally” concealed facts from the medical community and spent millions of dollars on “a misinformation campaign aimed at highlighting opioids’ alleged benefits, disguising the risks and promotion sales.”

“The expense of treating overdose and opioid-addicted patients has skyrocketed, straining the resources of hospitals throughout our state,” said Lee Bond, chief executive officer of Singing River Health System in Pascagoula.

A significant portion of the cost of treating opioid addiction and related illnesses is unreimbursed to the hospitals or reimbursed at well below the cost of the care provided, the lawsuit says.

“Hospitals are already doing so much to alleviate this crisis,” Bond said, “it is time for the entities that profited from the epidemic to help fund the solution.”

Sun Herald reporter Margaret Baker contributed to this article.

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Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.