County should join suit against drug companies

Published 10:24 am Friday, October 27, 2017

The Clark County Fiscal Court is considering whether to join a potential lawsuit to recoup costs related to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Three dozen Kentucky counties have already joined the suit, according to the Kentucky Association of Counties, and we believe Clark County and the City of Winchester should add their names to that list.

The case is being handled by a group of eight law firms and will be filed against the pharmaceutical companies that make drugs like Lortab, OxyContin and similar painkillers.

Email newsletter signup

Other states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington, have filed similar suits holding drug companies that produce opioid painkillers accountable. Attorney generals’ offices in 40 states have opened investigations that could lead to more lawsuits against large drug companies. The investigations seek to answer whether these companies acted unlawfully in their marketing, sales or distribution practices while raking in millions of dollars from opioid pain medication.

The major claim is that drug manufacturers and distributors downplayed or didn’t disclose the addictive nature and risks of opioid medications, while perhaps overstating the benefits of the drugs.

While there are legitimate medical uses for opioid painkillers, abuse of these drugs is taking a toll on Kentucky.

According to the 2016 Overdose Fatality Report by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, “substance abuse, particularly the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs … remains one of the most critical public health and safety issues facing Kentucky.

“Over the past decade, the number of Kentuckians who die from drug overdoses has steadily climbed to more than 1,000 per year, exacting a devastating toll on families, communities, social services and economic stability and growth.”

In Clark County, 56 overdose deaths by illicit or prescription drugs were reported from 2012-16, with 13 in 2015 and six in 2016. These deaths are tragic, but the impact of the epidemic goes beyond the overdose rates.

It is hard to pinpoint who exactly created the problem that is the opioid epidemic, but it is time for communities and the state of Kentucky to begin holding all of the many powers at play in this epidemic accountable.

Admittedly, big drug companies are not the sole entity responsible for this epidemic. Unethical doctors, irresponsibly-managed pain clinics, pharmacies, drug dealers and, yes, the drug abusers are all playing a role in the horrific and negative impact opioid drugs have had on our Commonwealth.

We need to crack down on all of the key players in this problem. This lawsuit and any subsequent settlement money — that could be used to fund more law enforcement, education, drug court programs, etc. — could be the start.

It would be an important step for Clark County to be included in this lawsuit to hold drug companies accountable, no matter how much money would become available after a settlement.

By adding our name to the list of communties pursuing this lawsuit, our elected officials would announce that we refuse to sit back and watch companies get rich off unethical practices that have led to thousands of deaths and many more broken families.