Memphis considering suing pharmaceutical companies over opioid epidemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis could be the next city to sue the pharmaceutical industry over costs related to the opioid epidemic, city council members said Tuesday.

Officials said the opioid epidemic has cost them so much because it infiltrates so many departments.

"We have a major cost when it comes to EMS, and ambulance rides have gone up 134 percent in the last five years,” Councilman Worth Morgan said.

They said they’re considering fighting back and heard presentations from attorneys about what it would take to sue pharmaceutical companies. Attorneys Thomas Greer and Michael Working said they could help the city recoup millions of dollars for taxpayers, similar to actions taken by other government entities, including three eastern Tennessee counties.

“It’s good other parts of Tennessee are going forward," Morgan said. "I think that urged us to say, 'Wait a second. If other parts are doing that, what’s the difference between us and Chattanooga or Nashville?'”

Greer and Working blamed pharmaceutical companies, even though doctors are the ones who put opioids in the hands of patients.

“There was a clear, aggressive campaign to mislead doctors into prescribing opioids for chronic pain, and they told doctors it wasn’t addictive," Greer said.

That could be hard to prove in the courtroom, leaving city officials to weigh their options. They also said they’d consider joining Shelby County in a joint lawsuit.

“That’s our best foot forward to go together. We’d have to consult some city attorneys as well and see our options," Morgan said.

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland said he did not see any advantages to joining with the city and thus would not be in favor of a joint lawsuit.

County Commission is set to discuss the lawsuit potential at its commission meeting Wednesday morning.