In the most recent development in State vs. Big Pharma – several counties in Colorado have joined together to file a lawsuit against major opioid prescription manufacturers.
The counties banding together are: Larimer, Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Teller, and other cities getting participating are Aurora, Black Hawk, Commerce City, Northglenn, and the town of Hudson.
In an attempt to receive financial reimbursement for a portion of the damages lost through the increased costs associated with the opioid epidemic, these counties are suing big pharmaceutical companies within the next 6 months.
Multiple other states have been pressing for legal action against pharmaceutical companies for the same reason, and so far, none of the states have seen their day in court.
According to the public information officer for Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, Kelly O’Donnell, the entire process will probably take around 6 months to even get everything ready to file. Each county, city, and town will be acting individually, but the plan of attack is to have all 13 districts to file suit at the same time.
That doesn’t mean that the money will just be handed over though. O’Donnell states that it could take upwards of four, even five years for the state to even see any of the money, and that is only IF they win the case.
Larimer County has so far been very vocal on their decision to move forward with a legal process, and the County commissioners voted 2-0 in favor of the decision as well.
The plan is, that after the lawsuit is officially filed, each county and city will conduct a specific assessment of the individual impacts of the opioid epidemic in their area. The major topics of concern are:
- Emergency Room Visits
- Emergency Response
- Substance Abuse Treatment
- Hospital Stays
- Narcan and Naloxone costs
- Psychiatric Therapy
The Death Toll
Since 2000, overdose deaths from opioid drugs skyrocketed by over 500%. In 2016, 504 drug overdose deaths in Colorado were related to an opioid, which averages out to 55% of all drug deaths in the state. That number was a stark increase in the drug deaths that occurred in 2001.
The death toll doesn’t even compare to the numbers of people who are struggling with an opioid addiction, or to those who have potentially committed suicide with opioids or because of their addiction.
Since the rise of the opioid epidemic, there has also been a stark increase in the child welfare system in Colorado. In the year 2016, out of the 36,000 child abuse cases reported in the state, close to 5,000 of them were from some sort of abuse occurring from drug-addicted parents. In over 30% of those cases, these children were blatantly exposed to the drugs or living in filth due to their parent’s addiction.
Opioid Prescription Rise
Not only in Colorado but all over the country, the amount of opioid prescriptions written since 2000 have skyrocketed. Some states, such as Tennessee and West Virginia, have had years where the opioid prescriptions have even doubled the entire statewide population.
Colorado is no different. As the rate of opioids prescribed increased, as did the rates of opioid overdoses. Between the years 2000 and 2016, the amount of opioid medication prescriptions quadrupled, along with the opioid-related deaths.
In Larimer County alone, in the year 2016 alone, the coroner reported opioid-related deaths in record numbers. With 8 from fentanyl, 9 from heroin, and 14 from prescription opioids, researchers are no longer in doubt that opioid prescriptions lead to heroin use.
It is no longer only the people living on the street that are hooked on opioids, but it is teenagers, the elderly, businessmen, medical professionals, and just about everyone in between. The demographics are no longer something that people can write off as people of “lesser breeding”, or whatever they would say, it is every type of person, all over the country.
Local and state government have been scrambling to find manageable alternatives to the opioid epidemic. One of the first steps was to crack down on the allowable amount of medications that people could receive. Where before, people would be able to get a months supply of oxycodone for a tooth extraction or a sprained ankle, many states are now limiting opioid medication prescription for a maximum of 3-7 day supply.
In addition, many states are working to increase the availability of substance abuse and mental health treatment for low-income civilians. Most treatment facilities are only payable through insurance coverage, but many low-income or blue collar workers are not covered by healthcare in some parts of the country.
A revamping of the nations Prescription Drug Database has also been put into effect in many states, in an effort to reduce doctor shopping and unsafe prescribing practices in physicians and healthcare employees.
As for the case, the “jury” is still out on how the individual counties and cities will be performing their assessments to analyze the total losses from the opioid epidemic. But the point is, the country is watching. People are paying attention, and a majority of Americans have, in one way or another, been affected by the opioid epidemic.
Some families have lost loved ones, never to see them again, and other families are living in constant fear that their loved one will be the next statistic. Whether or not these Colorado counties will prove successful in their lawsuit against Big Pharma is still unclear, but the footwork is being made, and change is, hopefully, well on the way.
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