Alabama’s failed war on marijuana

As the War on Drugs wages on despite evidence that it has had almost zero effect, the Southern Poverty Law Center has examined the effects the war has had on one state: Alabama. The report from the SPLC and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is said to be the first of its kind to examine the fiscal, public safety and human toll of Alabama’s own War on Marijuana. According to the study:

  • The overwhelming majority of people arrested for marijuana offenses from 2012 to 2016 – 89 percent – were arrested for possession. In 2016, 92 percent of all people arrested for marijuana offenses were arrested for possession.
  • Alabama spent an estimated $22 million enforcing the prohibition against marijuana possession in 2016 – enough to fund 191 additional preschool classrooms, 571 more K-12 teachers or 628 more Alabama Department of Corrections officers.
  • Black people were approximately four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession (both misdemeanors and felonies) in 2016 – and five times as likely to be arrested for felony possession. These racial disparities exist despite robust evidence that white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.
  • In at least seven law enforcement jurisdictions, black people were 10 or more times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
  • In 2016, police made more arrests for marijuana possession (2,351) than for robbery, for which they made 1,314 arrests – despite the fact that there were 4,557 reported robberies that year.
  • The enforcement of marijuana possession laws creates a crippling backlog at the state agency tasked with analyzing forensic evidence in all criminal cases, including violent crimes. As of March 31, 2018, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences had about 10,000 pending marijuana cases, creating a nine-month waiting period for analyses of drug samples. At the same time, the department had a backlog of 1,121 biology/DNA cases, including about 550 “crimes against persons” cases such as homicide, sexual assault and robbery.

The full report is available here.

NTL member files two more opioid lawsuits

Beasley Allen has filed its fourth and fifth lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors on behalf of an Alabama city or county government. The complaints, filed on behalf of Limestone County, Alabama, and the city of Anniston, alleges the marketing of these drugs contributed to the creation of the opioid epidemic, a public health and safety crisis. Responding to the opioid crisis has required Barbour County to sustain economic damages and to continue to bear a significant financial burden. Limestone County is represented by Beasley Allen lawyers Rhon E. Jones, who is head of the firm’s Toxic Torts Section and a member of The National Trial Lawyers, Rick Stratton, Will Sutton and Ryan Kral, along with Athens, Alabama lawyer John M. Plunk.

The City of Anniston is represented by Beasley Allen lawyers Rhon E. Jones, who is head of the firm’s Toxic Torts Section, Rick Stratton, Will Sutton and Ryan Kral, along with Bruce Downey of The Downey Law Firm in Anniston.

In December, Beasley Allen filed two similar lawsuits on behalf of the City of Greenville, Alabama and Houston County, Alabama. In February, Beasley Allen filed additional lawsuits on behalf of Barbour County, Alabama, and Sumner County, Tennessee. The firm also is representing the State of Alabama in its opioid lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals.

“Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. We are seeing a huge cost in human lives, and a burdensome financial toll on communities struggling to battle the problem,” Jones said. “Providing city and county resources to battle the opioid crisis causes local governments to take a huge financial hit, draining funds away from other critical government services, and creating an ongoing financial burden.”

“The conduct of these drug makers and distributors is some of the most egregious I’ve ever seen,” said Plunk, who has practiced law in Athens for 40 years, representing victims of fraud, physical injuries and other similar claims. “Communities like ours are struggling to meet the challenges of caring for our citizens, who are the victims of the opioid epidemic and need services ranging from law enforcement assistance to medical care.”

“This crisis was created by the pharmaceutical industry, which clearly put its interests in profit ahead of concerns for public safety,” Downey said. “They misled doctors and the public about the serious risks associated with these drugs, especially the risk of addiction. As a result, communities are left struggling to cope with the consequences.”

Economic damages resulting from the opioid epidemic include costs for providing medical care, therapeutic care and treatments for patients suffering from opioid-related addiction or disease, including overdoses and deaths; costs for providing counseling and rehabilitation services; costs for treating infants born with opioid-related medical conditions; public safety and law enforcement expenses; and care for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related disability or incapacitation.

Four Alabama cities rank in the Top 15 in the nation with the highest rates of opioid abuse – Anniston, Gadsden, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. Nationally, opioids are responsible for killing more than 183,000 people since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2015 alone, 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses – more than guns, car crashes and HIV/AIDS ever killed in one year in the U.S.

Defendants include Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, LTD.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Noramco, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis PLS; Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. n/k/a Actavis, Inc.; Watson Laboratories, Inc.; Actavis, LLC; Actavis Pharm a, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc.; Mallinckrodt plc; Mallinckrodt LLC; McKesson Corporation; Cardinal Health, Inc.; and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation.

The complaint is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.