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Counties Sue Drug Companies Over Meth Ingredient Sales

Counties Unite in Suit against Drug Companies over Meth 


A monumental lawsuit alleging pharmaceutical companies profited from the illegal production of crystal meth is building momentum and will likely spread across the country. The lawsuit is reminiscent of billion dollar lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers that were filed by state governments in the 1990ís.

For county officials like Independence County Judge Bill Hicks, itís hard to think there wouldnít be interest in the case across state and county lines. Judge Hicks says his county, with a population just under 35,000, has been spending over a million dollars a year fighting methamphetamine abuse while pharmaceutical companies were profiting billions from sales of meth ingredients.

So far, 22 of Arkansasís 75 counties have joined in the class action to recover loses the counties incurred in fighting methamphetamine epidemic. 

The complaint which was filed in Independence County Circuit Court contends that drug companies such as Pfizer Inc., Johnson and Johnson, Warner Lambert, and others profited greatly from selling methamphetamine precursor ingredients in the form of medicine to illegal methamphetamine makers. 

The lawsuit says pharmaceutical companies fought legislative efforts to manage the sale of cough medicine containing pseudoephedrine throughout the 1980s and 1990s, knowing that if methamphetamine makers were not permitted access to the necessary ingredients that the companies' profits would fall. Methamphetamine abuse did drop substantially in areas where controls were put into place. 

State laws in Oregon and Kansas were particularly influential in the United States Congress recognizing the use of ephedrine and pseudophedrine in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine and passing the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. The act amended US Code (21 USC 830) concerning the sale of ephedrine and pseudophedrine containing products and required they could be sold only behind the counter or in a locked cabinet in such a way as to restrict public access. 

Attorneys handling the landmark case allege that one company showed revenues drop from 180-million a year to 30-million a year, when the cold medicines were put behind the counter. 

Attorney Paul Byrd of Hare, Wynn, Newell and Bewton says he has evidence that will show the drugs clearly contributed to part of the meth epidemic that has cost county government millions. 

"If they couldn't have gotten the cold medicine, they couldn't have produced the meth. It's just that simple," Byrd told KAIT-News in Jonesborough. 

"There's nothing really for us to lose," Washington County Attorney George Butler told reporters. The county would pay no legal fees unless the lawsuit was successful.

"What more could we have done with a million dollars a year for our County... Would that have meant a half dozen more police officers? Would that have meant a better solid waste program? Who knows, what could your county have done with an extra million dollars," asks Hicks.

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