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Expert witnesses' reports made public in "Sullivan Baby Doe" opioid lawsuit

J. H. Osborne • Dec 20, 2019 at 11:30 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — A cache of reports compiled by expert witnesses in the upcoming May 2020 Sullivan Baby Doe trial will be released, following a push by regional district attorneys general (DAGs) to make the documents public, according to a press release issued Thursday afternoon.

The documents, previously filed under seal, outline a $2.4 billion plan by DAGs to help counter the adverse and far-reaching effects of East Tennessee’s opioid crisis. The plan and its estimated cost was developed under the guidance of multiple industry experts, including Scott Hemphill, J.D., Ph.D., who grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee, and now serves as the Moses H. Grossman Professor of Law at New York University’s School of Law.

“The amount we are seeking from these opioid producers and distributors is only a fraction of what we have lost in dealing with the problems they created,” District Attorney General Barry Staubus, 2nd Judicial District, said.

The DAGs plan spans a 15-year period and focuses on support for area law enforcement, a comprehensive treatment system for opioid use disorder (OUD) that includes inpatient and outpatient services, and support services for mothers with OUD and their children. Additional elements address the use of drug courts and therapeutic communities within the jail system to help reduce overcrowding, increased screening for disease, medical monitoring and support for mothers of infants with NAS, and treatment and support for children whose parents or primary caregivers suffer from OUD.

More than 7,000 grandparents in the nine East Tennessee counties represented in the suit have primary custody of their grandchildren, a phenomenon that local officials attribute largely to parental use of opioids, according to the press release, which noted the following details from the newly released reports:

• a disproportionate effect of the opioid epidemic in Tennessee, and particularly in the nine counties represented in the suit, with a rate of 237.5 prescriptions per 100 people filled in Sullivan County in 2010, compared to the national rate of 81.2 prescriptions per 100 people during the same period;

• a corresponding rate of overdose deaths due to opioids, with a rate of 19.5 overdose deaths per 100,000 people (or 1,268 deaths) recorded in the nine counties in 2017, compared to the overall U.S. rate of 14.9 deaths per 100,000 people; and

• a higher incidence rate of NAS in the nine counties, with 41 cases per 1,000 live births (or 198 infants) recorded in 2018, compared to the Tennessee average of 11 cases per 1,000 live births.

“Law-abiding citizens should not have to bear the cost of cleaning up this opioid catastrophe,” Staubus said. “Our plan will bring much-needed relief to the first responders, teachers, healthcare workers, grandparents, parents and others who are working to address this crisis in our communities.”

The multiple documents made public Thursday include reports from: C. Scott Hemphill, J.D., Ph.D., a graduate of Stanford, Harvard and the London School of Economics who currently serves as the Moses H. Grossman Professor of Law at New York University’s School of Law; Richard A. Rawson, Ph.D., retired co-director of UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, professor emeritus at the UCLA Department of Psychiatry, and research professor, Center for Behavior and Health, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont; Joel S. Koenig, M.D., former chief of Pediatrics at Missouri Baptist Medical Center; David M. Stern, M.D., Ph.D., former vice-chancellor for Health Affairs for Statewide Initiatives, former executive dean and vice-chancellor for Health Affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and former Gerald and Janet Carrus endowed professor at Columbia; and Lloyd I. Sederer, M.D., adjunct professor at the Columbia School of Public Health and former chief medical officer for the New York State Office of Mental Health.

The Sullivan Baby Doe suit is currently scheduled to go to trial Monday, May 18, 2020, in Sullivan County Circuit Court in Bristol, Tennessee.

Originally, the suit listed prescription opioid producers Purdue Pharma, L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company; Mallinckrodt LLC; Endo Health Solutions, Inc. and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. as producer defendants. Since then, Purdue Pharma has declared bankruptcy as part of a nationwide attempt to settle thousands of suits that followed Baby Doe’s lead. Mallinckrodt and Endo remain active defendants.