Opioid Abuse, Impact on Taxpayers, Legal Options

By Darren Penn, Penn Law

Darren Penn

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.



One comment on “Opioid Abuse, Impact on Taxpayers, Legal Options”

  • Denise Thompson says:

    What are the increased health insurance costs? Surely no one is being expected to pay for health insurance for the drug users, right? And no, opioids are not safe “when used as directed” because doctors are writing them for MUCH longer periods of time than they should. It is well-known that it should only be up to a maximum of 10 days that any painkiller be taken, and then for only certain conditions. Chronic pain, specifically chronic back pain, is NOT a justifiable reason to take opioids, and doctors know it. But they won’t take the time and the fortitude to tell the patients that, and make them use non-medicinal therapies for pain relief instead. They keep writing prescriptions for people for months and years, knowing they shouldn’t, never saying NO, never even seeing the patient–how can they, as the medical professional in the scenario, NOT be held responsible for the continuing problem? Yes, the drug companies started it, but now the doctors know better, and they should just say NO–period. Then there’s NO crisis. How hard can it be?


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