MOULTRIE, Ga. — The City of Moultrie voted April 16 to join a national lawsuit related to the opioid epidemic.

This lawsuit stems from claims that the manufacturers of opioids used aggressive advertising and persuasion tactics to get doctors to prescribe the painkillers to patients and that distributors failed to properly monitor suspicious orders of prescription drugs.

City manager Pete Dillard said the city council had been discussing the lawsuit for about a year now.

“The initial discussions put the city in a position with some liability that we didn’t like for expenses and if that is removed it will be a simple matter of just signing on to it,” Dillard said. “But at the end of the day, we have to make sure the taxpayers are protected.”

Moultrie attorney Hayden Willis will be one of the lawyers representing the city in the case. He provided more background on the lawsuit in a statement he emailed to The Moultrie Observer.

In 2017, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-district Litigation ordered the consolidation of what was then nearly 200 pending opioid-related cases into multi-district litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio under Judge Dan Polster, Willis wrote. The lawsuits consolidated into In Re National Prescription Opiate Litigation (MDL No. 2804), alleging “improper marketing of and inappropriate distribution of various prescription opiate medications” in cities, states, and towns across the United States.

“Purdue Pharma created a game-changing long-acting opioid called Oxycontin and began selling it in 1996,” Willis wrote. “Therefore, we know that the initial impact of the opioid crisis began long before the lawsuit was ever filed.”

Recently, the attorneys general of 31 states and the District of Columbia filed amicus briefs to oppose two motions to dismiss the State of Alabama’s lawsuit, Willis wrote. The attorneys general expressed concern that dismissal of Alabama’s claims could impact pending and planned lawsuits by other states outside the MDL. The attorneys general argue that states have broader authority than cities and counties to take actions to protect the health and well-being of their citizens.

“The nationwide opioid crisis is causing a devastating effect on individuals, families, and communities,” Willis wrote, “and it is imposing enormous financial costs on federal, state, and local governments. Law enforcement, first responders, hospitals, jails, and other community services have all been stretched thin by the opioid crisis. The crisis is affecting the national economy, something that could drive a settlement well past record-breaking territory. A nonprofit organization that studies healthcare, estimates the opioid crisis cost the country more than $1 trillion from 2001 to 2017. Health-care costs for municipal employees have skyrocketed. Jails are packed. Counties have purchased thousands of doses of a drug used to reverse overdoses, and first responders are working overtime, often reviving the same people over and over again.”

In addition to Willis, the attorneys that will represent the City of Moultrie are J. Anderson Davis with Brinson, Askew, & Berry in Rome, Ga. (lead counsel); and Haynes M. Studstill with the Studstill Firm in Valdosta.

The City of Moultrie joins Colquitt County and several other South Georgia cities and counties that had already joined the lawsuit.

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