By Darren Penn, Penn Law
Our nation’s opioid epidemic has taken an incredible jump in the last few years. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2016 there were 1,394 drug overdose deaths just in Georgia. As the number of overdoses increases, so does the cost for state and local governments to fight the abuse.
Taxpayer costs include: expenses for first responders, law enforcement, the judicial system, treatment centers, and at an alarming rate, coroners. Most of these costs are not typically included in county, city, and state budgets. And, even if they are the line item is never enough to cover the increasing costs.
By the Numbers
- The rate of overdose are higher in men than women. In less than 10 years the rate of overdoses in men has increased three-fold. With the highest rate among those aged 24-54.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that three-quarters of people entering treatment for heroin addiction started their dependency with prescription opioids.
- In 2016, drug companies saw $11 billion dollars in revenue from opioids.
Fulton County in metro Atlanta recently filed suit against drug manufacturers, distributors and doctors, accusing them of causing and contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis. While Fulton County is the first government in Georgia to sue opioid drug manufacturers, more than 100 other lawsuits have been filed by governments nationwide. In 2016, more than 150 people died in Fulton from opioid abuse and overdoses and has now passed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the county.
This is not just a problem in Georgia, or the South. In fact, a consolidated lawsuit has been filed to create multi-district litigation hoping to cut down on redundant filing and court delays. The lawsuit accuses opioid drug makers of deceptive marketing designed to push sales of opioids and targeted pain killers to vulnerable populations, including the elderly and veterans.
The lawsuit also claims poor oversight by drug companies, including ignoring suspiciously large orders of their medication. The local governments are looking for drug companies to pay for significant harm and damages including increased health insurance costs and the need for more emergency responders.
The drug companies insist opioids can be safely used if the prescription is followed. The fact that it is a prescription drug makes this set of lawsuits different than other large filings like the tobacco lawsuits.
Of course, lawsuits are not limited to just local governments. The families and loved ones of those killed or catastrophically affected by opioids have potential claims as well. Just as in the tobacco cases, individuals have the right to maintain suits as well.
A Public Health Emergency
In November, President Trump declared at 90-day Public Health Emergency with plans to fight opioid abuse. The 90 days ends January 23. So far there are not been a formal response from the administration on resources or spending to fight the abuse. The promised ad campaign has not even been created and key public health and drug administration jobs are still open.
Representatives from 13 states will meet in Ohio on January 31st to discuss the consolidated lawsuit and next steps. This is not where it ends. As the date approaches, more cities are expected to announce plans to join the lawsuit.