Lawyers Hope to Do to Opioid Makers What They Did to Big Tobacco

Mr. Moore said his experience with the law firm’s opioid cases prompted him to push Mississippi to consider litigation.

His successor as Mississippi attorney general, Jim Hood, remembers Mr. Moore bringing up the topic when they were at a law-enforcement conference in 2007. They listened to a talk addressing Rush Limbaugh’s painkiller addiction, which the conservative radio host had said he developed after taking the pills for pain following back surgery. Mr. Hood recalls Mr. Moore saying, “Man, this is just going to be a huge epidemic,” and suggesting the state consider litigation.

Mr. Hood said that at first he couldn’t understand how “you sue someone for something that is FDA-approved.” After talking to physicians, he said he became convinced drugmakers were soft-pedaling the addiction risk.

In December 2015 Mr. Hood filed a suit that was drafted largely by Davidson Bowie PLLC, a Flowood, Miss., law firm run by a friend of Mr. Moore, John Davidson. The law firm’s agreement with the state entitles the firm to fees similar to those in Ohio but with no maximum.

Mr. Moore is consulting on the case. He said he had no agreement specifying how he would be paid. It “doesn’t concern me,” he said.

Mr. Moore donated $13,500 to Hood campaigns between 2008 and 2016, state campaign-finance records show.

Mr. Moore sought to persuade other states to sue, including Ohio. There the attorney general is Mike DeWine, a former Republican senator Mr. Moore knew from the tobacco-litigation days.