Opioid Distributors Cleared of Liability to Georgia Families Ravaged by Addiction

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.

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.

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