While there was some controversy over dissenting votes in the Lee County Board of Commissioners’ decision to join a lawsuit against the manufacturers of opioid drugs, an article in the December issue of Attorney at Law Magazine Raleigh demonstrates that such lawsuits aren’t necessarily unique.

Raleigh firm Everett Gaskins Hancock filed a federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers in November claiming that the illegal marketing of several drugs – including Percocet, Dilaudid, and Hydrocodone – as non-addictive “has driven up health care costs by 4 to 6 percent a year for over 20 years.”

Those increases have been passed along to the public in the form of higher health insurance premiums, says a lawsuit filed by the firm in early November in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The blame for the higher premiums is placed squarely on ten opioid-related companies. “The claim is for all who have paid higher health insurance premiums to recover from the manufacturers and distributors, which have undertaken a campaign of deception,” said Gaskins.

The average health insurance policyholder could be entitled to recover hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Damages could run into the billions for the drug companies and or distributors and could force some into bankruptcy, explained Gaskins.

The 94-page complaint charges that drug companies knew as early as 1996 that opioids were addictive but intentionally misled prescribing doctors to think otherwise. “The complaint describes how manufacturers and distributors of opioids entered into a massive campaign to convince prescribing physicians and patients that opioids were both effective and safe for long-term chronic pain use. The scientific evidence was to the contrary.”

The lawsuit is not exactly the same as the one joined by Lee County in September, which seeks damages for counties and municipalities that could be put to use in funding increased efforts at enforcement, education and treatment. But the claim – that misleading marketing tactics were a key driver in the country’s epidemic, and that pharmaceutical companies violated laws and regulations enacted to prevent these drugs from hitting the illicit market – is nearly identical in practical terms.

Republican County Commissioners Arianna Del Palazzo and Kirk Smith dissented on a procedural vote earlier this month declaring opioids a public health nuisance on the grounds that heroin causes more deaths than prescription opioids and that suing the manufacturers of legal drugs would do little to address the problem, despite the fact that research has showed as many as 80 percent of heroin addicts began with prescription drugs.

In any case, the article is enlightening reading for anyone with an interest in the topic. There should certainly be plenty in Lee County, which was ranked second in North Carolina in opioid overdoses earlier this year.

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