Forsyth County suing drug companies over opioid crisis

Forsyth County suing drug companies over opioid crisis
February 01
11:12 2018

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will be hiring law firms to help it sue opioid manufacturers and distributers.

“It’s the board’s intention to join in the litigation that a number of counties have joined into to hold those manufacturers and distributors of opioids responsible for what, I think the sense is, the inaction or improper action of some those companies,” said County Manager Dudley Watts during last Thursday’s county commissioners briefing on Jan. 25.

Big pharmaceutical companies’ tactics in marketing and distributing highly addictive prescription opioids have been widely blamed for starting the current nationwide crisis of opioid addiction. Watts said that the commissioners plan to vote today to enlist law firms Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, Crueger Dickinson LLC and von Brieson and Roper, s.c in the suit. The law firms would be paid out of the damages awarded, so the suit won’t cost taxpayer money.

The exact claims and targets of the lawsuit will be determined by the lawyers, but judging from what the state and other county governments have done, there are many possibilities. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has sued Insys Therapeutics for what he said was an unlawful marketing campaign that rewarded doctors who prescribed Subsys, a potent painkiller that’s 100 times stronger than morphine and only approved for cancer patients.

Many counties have announced lawsuits. Yadkin County filed a lawsuit naming 24 defendants. A lawyer representing Randolph County said last month that that county’s suit would target companies at the “top of the food chain” who make billions selling opioids “while knowingly violating their own rules.” Other counties that announced suits include Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Pitt, Gaston, Surry, New Hanover, Onslow and Rockingham. The state’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is also suing.

In 2016, an average of five people died every day from drug overdose in the state, a 410 percent increase from 1999. This dramatic increase is felt by the county’s Emergency Medical Services, who are constantly responding to overdose calls.

“We’re picking up people everyday, 30 days out of a 30-day month, where it used to be once a month,” said County Commissioner Chair Dave Plyler. 

The cost can be felt in other areas, too. For instance, there’s been a large increase in children taken into custody by the county’s Department of Social Services due to opioids. Plyler said he expects the settlement with state and local governments over the opioid crisis to be similar in scope to the 1998 tobacco settlement. That settlement between the four largest tobacco companies in the country and the attorney generals of 46 states involved paying a minimum of $206 billion over the first 25 years.

Forsyth County will be filing its own lawsuit that will be grouped with other counties, but is it not a class action suit, which gives the county more control over it.   

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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