The damage opioid addiction cases to families and society as a whole has state and local governments attempting to move with unusual quickness, and there continues to be work to pass meaningful legislation through Congress. Already, courthouses coast to coast are hearing cases brought by state and local governments against pharmaceutical companies.
But the lawsuit filed April 17 in Glynn County is a little different — there are 22 different plaintiffs, many of whom are minor children of alleged victims.
Each of the alleged victims are local, and according to the suit, either obtained opioids from a local pharmacy or from others locally who illegally obtained opioids.
The plaintiffs brought suit against three pharmaceutical distributors — along with their corporate subdivisions — four local pharmacies, including people in notable positions in those pharmacies, and the proprietor of another local pharmacy that is no longer in operation.
“There can be no legitimate dispute that the defendants have caused a flood of opioids to flow into Georgia,” according to the suit. “Indeed, the evidence is damning.”
The suit accuses the individuals named, the distributors and the pharmacies of ignoring their legal duties and acting as illegal drug dealers. It states that in 2010 in Glynn County, more than 1.52 million doses of oxycodone and more than 2.65 million doses of hydrocodone were distributed.
Each of the alleged victims have individual stories, but many of them share commonalities.
One woman, for instance, received allegedly illegitimate prescriptions from nine doctors and one physician’s assistant, which covered nine different controlled substances. Five different pharmacies filled those prescriptions — including three pharmacies that weren’t named as defendants in this lawsuit.
One of the pharmacists in charge at one of the defendant pharmacies allegedly provided the woman with controlled substances without a prescription. She also obtained diverted prescription drugs from others outside of a professional practice.
The woman’s more-than-decade-long addiction led to what’s described in the suit as a chaotic living environment for her children, who suffered through traumatic situations and lived at times in dangerous circumstances.
The distributor defendants include Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation and the J.M. Smith Corporation, and their subsidiaries. The suit states between 2006 and 2011, McKesson’s distribution of oxycodone to Glynn County more than quadrupled, while in Cardinal’s case, it more than doubled.
The pharmacy defendants include Altama Discount Pharmacy, Darien Pharmacy, Rainbow Drug Store, Woodbine Pharmacy, and notable people in positions of responsibility within those pharmacies. The suit also notes the actions of City Drug Store before it closed.
Altama Discount Pharmacy, according to the suit, ramped up its prescription opioid distribution year after year, in that by 2010 it was distributing more than triple the amount it did in 2008. The suit also states Altama was in the top 5 percent of all pharmacies in Georgia for oxycodone distribution every year from 2006 to 2013, and that Cardinal was its primary distributor through at least 2012.
The tale told in the lawsuit is similar with the other pharmacies named. Altama and Darien Pharmacy joined McKesson’s Health Mart network in 2013, but Cardinal was Darien’s main distributor until January 2011. Also, Darien was in the top 5 percent of all Georgia pharmacies for oxycodone distribution every year from 2009 to 2013.
City Drug, it’s alleged, was in the top one-half of 1 percent of all Georgia pharmacies in oxycodone distribution in 2010 and 2011. In 2006 and 2007, the suit alleges Woodbine was the highest distributor of oxycodone and methadone in the state, and the highest distributor of hydrocodone in 2006.
The lawsuit states, “When defendants disregarded their obligations and distributed vastly more of these dangerous and addictive drugs than were needed to satisfy legitimate medical purposes, the result was foreseeable and exactly what the state and federal laws creating a closed system of distribution were designed to prevent: addition, hospitalization, deaths, broken marriages, neglected and abandoned children, and ruined families.”
The plaintiffs’ claims include violations of the Georgia Drug Dealer Liability Act, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, negligence by the distributor defendants and breach of legal duty by the distributor defendants.
The News attempted to get in contact with each of the businesses remaining in operation. Responding to a request for comment, McKesson sent a statement regarding opioids, “As a company, we are deeply concerned by the impact of the opioid epidemic is having on families and communities in our nation. We are committed to engaging with all who share our dedication to acting with urgency and working together to end this national crisis.
“We maintain — and continuously enhance — strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion within the pharmaceutical supply chain. We only distribute controlled substances, including opioids, to (Drug Enforcement Administration)-registered and state-licensed pharmacies. For many years, sales of controlled substances ordered by pharmacies in the U.S. Have been reported to the DEA for its internal database.”
The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, which represents wholesale distributors like Cardinal, McKesson and J.M. Smith, provided a statement from John Parker, senior vice president of communications at HDA.
“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders,” Parker said. “It’s also critical to understand the role of each stakeholder across the supply chain. Distributors do not conduct research, manufacture, market or prescribe medications, nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products or patient-benefit designs.
“The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”
The other named defendants did not respond to The News’ request for comment on the lawsuit.
There’s already been some movement on litigation, however, beyond the simple filing of lawsuits. Purdue Pharma, in late March, settled with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million. The state alleged Purdue and 12 other pharmaceutical companies engaged in deceptive marketing.
Also, Thursday, McKesson settled with the state of West Virginia for $37 million. The company admitted no liability, but will pay the state $14.5 million this year and $4.5 million annually for the next five years, according to the Washington Post. Cardinal already settled with West Virginia for $20 million.
The voices that rang out in song and prayer inside the church all called for the same ideals — unity and love.
In the pews sat community members of many different church denominations and faith groups in Glynn County. Those groups were indistinguishable, though, on the National Day of Prayer, held Thursday at First Baptist Church in Brunswick.
The National Day of Prayer is a longstanding tradition in American history and locally. The theme this year, in the midst of a tumultuous time for this country, was “Love One Another.”
“Throughout out nation’s history, Americans have consistently turned to God for their guidance at pivotal times,” said Steve Temmer, a life coach and pastoral counselor at Centered for Life on St. Simons and one of the event’s organizers. “So this year we’re going to do that again.”
Glynn County’s Day of Prayer event included performances by several student groups and a choir, as well as prayers led by numerous local church leaders.
Temmer also asked the pastors, community and state leaders, law enforcement officials and other leaders in attendance to stand up before the congregation for their own moment of prayer.
“Even though President Trump could not be here today…” Temmer joked, “We want to pray for our president … No matter who is in the office, we need to be praying for our president or vice president, the Supreme Court justices, our state and local officials.”
Brunswick Mayor Pro Tem Vincent Williams made an official proclamation during the ceremony to declare May 2 the National Day of Prayer.
“We pray for the achievements of America’s goals for peace, justice for all people, the whole world,” Williams said.
Temmer said Glynn County is blessed to be a community that comes together for a Day of Prayer.
“There are a number of cities and counties around this nation that would not do that,” he said. “… That’s one of my challenges for us. Instead of getting frustrated with our leaders, they need our wisdom and they need our guidance. They need our encouragement. But more than that, they need God’s wisdom and encouragement.”
Temmer asked the audience to seek out God’s love and to love those around them.
“Before we can love others, we need to love God,” he said. “Before we love others, we have to love ourselves, so that we can then love others. And so that’s the theme of today, is ‘love one another.’”
Holding a pair of giant scissors, Mark Warren and Archie Prince, co-owners of the new restaurant Sapelo Crow on St. Simons Island, cut the ribbon from the Brunswick Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce symbolizing its grand opening.
In truth, the restaurant has been open since October. But that didn’t stop the celebratory cheers when the oversized scissors cut through the tape.
While October is not necessarily the peak time for visitors and tourists on St. Simons Island, opening during that window has given the owners a chance to fine tune the restaurant ahead of the busy spring and summer seasons.
“We opened at the end of the season so we had the expected struggles throughout the winter months, but it kind of help us streamline things and work out some of the kinks,” Warren said. “We worked through some of those issues issues that if we had opened at the peak of the season, we would have been just run over.”
Sapelo Crow is located at 1609 Frederica Road — right next to the roundabout. The location was part of the appeal for the owners add to their restaurant total.
“(Sapelo Crow) is centrally located on the island,” said co-owner Archie Prince. “It’s a great middle spot for the island.”
Warren said the concept for Sapelo Crow came out a lot of research trying to find out what people thought was missing from the island.
“We traveled around the island, talked to people and really just asked ‘What does the island need?’” Warren said. “The No. 1 thing was a good steak. We found that a lot of people have steak on the menu, but people wanted a good steak. That’s what we’re trying to provide. The other thing we heard was the island needed a really good bourbon bar. I think we’ve accomplished that by having one of the largest collections of bourbon on the island.
Sapelo Crow’s proprietors also own Coastal Kitchen, located near Morningstar Marina, and Bubba Garcia’s, which is in Redfern Village just a short walk away from their latest establishment.
The key for Warren and Prince is that each restaurant offers something different.
“If you’re going to have multiple locations, you don’t want to compete with yourself,” Warren said. “Coastal Kitchen has the best seafood around. (Sapelo Crow) has some seafood because we’re on the island and people expect you to have some seafood, but we’re not necessarily the seafood house. Coastal is the seafood house. (Sapelo Crow) is more the steak and bourbon house and Bubba’s has Mexican (cuisine).”
Sapelo Crow is the latest in a trend that points to Glynn County improving as it comes to new businesses. Warren said he has been impressed with the general push towards growth on both the island and Brunswick.
“I know they are getting ready to put a lot more money into the downtown area to build that up and make that a destination too,” Warren said.
Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission voted to approve an agreement with Glynn County to fund sewer system repairs in the Sea Palms neighborhood on St. Simons Island.
Glynn County has $561,795 in revenue left from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax V that was set aside for sewer improvements. If the Glynn County Commission approved the agreement, the JWSC will use the money to pay for necessary repairs.
With that money, the utility can likely fix 90 percent or more of the known issues with the system in Sea Palms, said Deputy Director Andrew Burroughs.
“We’re not going to have any trouble spending the $561,000,” Burroughs said.
Once accepted, the utility can’t abandon the project, even if the cost exceeds what they’re given, said JWSC legal counsel Charles Dorminy. Due to that stipulation, some commissioners were concerned that the utility would end up being on the hook for more than it wanted to pay.
“I question if this is the best place to spend the money,” said commission Chairman Ben Turnipseed.
Burroughs replied that repairs to Sea Palms’ system would have a broader impact than simply fixing leaks.
“Glynn County has been wanting to pave in Sea Palms for a few years now, and they have held back on paving projects because of repeated sinkholes caused by failures in lines,” Burroughs said.
Turnipseed then asked how soon the project would begin. In the best case scenario, Burroughs said the utility would begin working on the project in the fall.
Commissioners approved the agreement 6-0. The Glynn County Commission must also give its approval before the contract is final.
In other business, Burroughs brought the commission up to speed on a St. Simons Island sewer system smoke test.
Rainwater inflow and groundwater infiltration contribute greatly to the cost of operating the Dunbar Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, increasing the volume of water flowing into the plant by as much as 1.5 million gallons a day on particularly rainy days
Workers will McKim & Creed, a contractor hired by the utility, locate holes in the sewer system by pumping a colored, odorless vapor into manholes.
Junkin said the test is already showing results, and in the first day contractors identified 30 to 40 defects in the system.
Roughly 90 percent of those defects were found on private property, Burroughs said.
The contractor will continue testing different areas of St. Simons Island until May 15, weather permitting.
Once the test is complete, the results will be used to prioritize sewer repair projects in the near term. If all goes well on St. Simons, the utility will use the test on the city of Brunswick’s sewer system.
In other business, utility staff members also updated the commission on repairs to a collapsed sewer main under Whitlock Street, proposed upgrades to the Academy Creek and Dunbar Creek wastewater treatment plants and proposals from third parties to replace the utility’s water meters.
The utility’s next meeting is scheduled for May 16.
The Glynn County Commission voted on Thursday to set the stage for the newly renovated Brunswick-Glynn County Library’s expanded conference space.
The commission assigned new fees to the conference space — capable of accommodating up to 400 people — and meeting rooms in the library and amended the county’s public conduct ordinance to allow events hosted at the library to serve alcohol.
The conference space can be split up into three separate conference rooms — called conference rooms A, B and C in county documents — with partition walls. Two new meeting rooms will have capacities of 20 and 30.
Renting the 20-seat and 30-seat meeting rooms for a day, if the fees are approved, would cost $40 and $60, respectively.
Conference rooms A and B can each hold 160 people, while conference room C can hold 80. Renting A or B would cost $300 while conference room C would run $160 per day.
Combining conference rooms A and B would seat 320 and cost $500 a day to rent, while B and C combined would seat 240 and cost $400.
All three together can seat 400 and would cost $600 per day to rent.
Under the proposed fee structure, each conference and meeting room could be rented for half a day at half the price of a full day, and nonprofits would get a 15 percent discount on all room rates. Other fees include a $30-per-hour after-hours rate; a $30-per-hour security fee to pay an off-duty police officer, if needed; and a $100 deposit, $250 for events at which alcohol would be served.
Establishing new fees requires a public hearing, and during the hearing St. Simons Island resident Julian Smith said the library should rent the spaces out by the hour as well, for those who wish to have small, short meetings or gatherings.
Marshes of Glynn Libraries Director Geri Mullis said the smallest meeting room runs $20 for a half day, which is very inexpensive. The library is not looking to make a profit off the fees, she said, simply to cover their associated maintenance costs.
Going forward, however, Mullis said the library’s board of directors would reevaluate the fees every three months and ask the county commission to make any changes they deem necessary.
The commission ultimately approved both the new fees and ordinance amendment 5-0. Commissioners Allen Booker and Peter Murphy were absent.
In other business, the commission voted to defer establishing new fees for tennis courts in Glynn County parks.
Recreation and Parks Manager Lisa Gurganus recommended charging $4 an hour to reserve tennis courts in four county parks: Ballard Park, Epworth Park, Howard Coffin Park and North Glynn Recreational Complex.
The county has 34 tennis courts, and only 14 could be rented out on any one day. Reservations must be for a minimum of two hours and made no more than 30 days beforehand.
Two courts would remain open on a first-come, first served basis at all four parks. Reserved courts couldn’t be used for lessons or any other commercial activity.
Gurganus said the fees were proposed by members of the public who wanted to hold small competitions.
A crowd of local tennis and pickleball players turned out to oppose the fees.
Patrick Anderson, a St. Simons Island resident and tennis player, said the county should get more input from the public and make some major changes.
Another local tennis player, Bill Kirby, suggested extending the cutoff date for reservations from 72 hours prior to the reserved day to six or seven days. He said 72 hours isn’t enough time for other players to find out about the reservation.
Ultimately the commission deferred the subject, saying Gurganus should work with local groups to refine the reservation system.
The commission also approved, among other things:
• A $143,000 contract with Republic Services to collect and dispose of trash at county-owned facilities.
• New guidelines and procedures for refunds of fees associated with youth athletic leagues, instructional programs, day camps and adult athletic leagues including a non-refundable $5 registration fee.
• The appointment of Zarak Hasbrouck to the Coastal Regional Commission’s Aging Services Advisory Council.
• A proclamation dubbing May 12-18 Police Week and May 15 Peace Officers’ Memorial Day.
The Glynn County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for May 16.