Opioid Distributors Cleared of Liability to Georgia Families Ravaged by Addiction

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The Georgia law says that relatives of drug users can sue for harms they endured from the “individual drug abusers.” Even so, defense lawyers for the distributors often turned the case into a referendum on addiction, saying that relatives suffered at the hands of people who chose pills over family.

Fentanyl Overdoses: What to Know

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Understand fentanyl’s effects. Fentanyl is a potent and fast-acting drug, two qualities that also make it highly addictive. A small quantity goes a long way, so it’s easy to suffer an overdose. With fentanyl, there is only a short window of time to intervene and save a person’s life during an overdose.

Stick to licensed pharmacies. Prescription drugs sold online or by unlicensed dealers marketed as OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax are often laced with fentanyl. Only take pills that were prescribed by your doctor and came from a licensed pharmacy.

Talk to your loved ones. The best way to prevent fentanyl use is to educate your loved ones, including teens, about it. Explain what fentanyl is and that it can be found in pills bought online or from friends. Aim to establish an ongoing dialogue in short spurts rather than one long, formal conversation.

Learn how to spot an overdose. When someone overdoses from fentanyl, breathing slows and their skin often turns a bluish hue. If you think someone is overdosing, call 911 right away.

Buy naloxone. If you’re concerned that a loved one could be exposed to fentanyl, you may want to buy naloxone. The medicine can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose and is often available at local pharmacies without a prescription.

F. Lane Heard, III, a Cardinal lawyer, noted that Brandy Turner, a mother of four daughters, took methadone from her mother in payment for doing household chores and watched her father sell drugs. Ms. Turner stole from her children and often left them with a great-grandmother who beat them until blood ran down their legs.

“How do you hold a wholesale distributor responsible for that kind of history and activity?” Mr. Heard asked the jurors.

Repeatedly during cross-examination and in closing arguments, he and others bore down on personal responsibility.

“Brandy Turner always had a choice,” Mr. Heard said, noting that on the stand, her daughters, aunt and sister, exposed to the same turmoil, explicitly said they had chosen not to take drugs.

The trial took place in Brunswick, Ga., a small coastal city surrounded by farmland and one-store towns, in an area that became well known as a hot spot along the “blue highway”— so-named for the color of oxycodone 30 milligram pills.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2019, asserted that for over a decade, the distributors eagerly shipped to five local pharmacies, which ordered vastly outsize quantities of opioids for the tiny communities, often dispensing them in dangerous combinations. The lead plaintiff was Joseph Poppell, a paramedic firefighter captain whose parents died from overdoses and who rescued his nieces from foster care, while his sister, their mother, remained addicted.