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An alliance of Arkansas cities pulled its federal lawsuit against the makers and distributors of addictive opioid drugs on Wednesday, a day after filing it, saying it needs more time to add groups to its coalition.

Officials also confirmed that some counties expect to soon file class-action suits against opioid companies in state court.

The complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Little Rock claims that pharmaceutical companies exaggerated the benefits of opioid use for chronic pain and concealed the narcotics' long-term side effects, even encouraging doctors to prescribe more painkillers when patients showed signs of addiction.

"Borrowing a page from Big Tobacco's playbook," companies deployed sales representatives and recruited physicians to influence "popular and medical understanding of opioids," the 72-page complaint asserted.

North Little Rock, Batesville, Springdale and Rogers are among the first 20 cities that agreed to be a part of the suit.

Any revenue collected from successful litigation will most likely be directed to drug treatment, state officials said.

Arkansas has the second-highest opioid prescribing rate at more than 114 scripts for every 100 people, behind only Alabama, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. Between 2006 and 2016, opioid prescribing jumped in all but four Arkansas counties.

Nationwide, the opioid prescribing rate is nearly 66 prescriptions for every 100 people.

In the past 10 years, state officials reported an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths, hospital visits and crime. State grants also gave millions of dollars of naloxone, an expensive opioid overdose reversal drug, to first-responders to use when they encounter victims. A new law allows Arkansas pharmacists to sell naloxone without a prescription.

And Little Rock drug enforcement agents are concerned that over-prescribing put Arkansas on track for a public health crisis centered on illicit use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and heroin.

The now-withdrawn lawsuit echoes key arguments contained in nearly 100 other lawsuits filed against opioid makers by cities, counties and states across the nation. Those cases are expected to be bundled in multidistrict litigation in federal courts.

Defendants named in the suit are Purdue Pharma, well known as the maker of OxyContin, a brand name for oxycodone; Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions, Watson Laboratories, Actavis Pharma, McKesson and Cardinal Health.

The Arkansas Municipal League filed the complaint, but it didn't include the Association of Arkansas Counties.

Last week, attorneys told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the county group and the municipal league would work together to position the state in a "unique way," ensuring that the lawsuit stood out from the rest, even those cases filed by big cities like Chicago or Cincinnati.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the cities filed a notice of "voluntary dismissal without prejudice" in court, which allows them to come back with a revised complaint at a later date. The Association of Arkansas Counties will be a part of that effort.

"The plan is to regroup and to re-file," said Jerome Tapley, a lawyer with Cory Watson Attorneys, an Alabama-based firm retained to work on the case.

The new complaint will see "substantial" changes and should be ready in early January, Tapley added.

Metro on 12/15/2017

Print Headline: Cities pause suit targeting opioid firms

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