Watauga County Board of Commissioners Announce Lawsuit Against Manufacturers and Distributors Of Prescription Opioids

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners announced the filing of a lawsuit in the U. S. District Court against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.  The Board previously passed a resolution declaring the opioid crisis a public nuisance and found that the County expends taxpayer funds to respond to the serious public health and safety crisis involving opioid addiction and death.  The county declared that they’ve received information indicating manufacturers and distributors of opioids have distributed opioids in violation of law thereby allowing the diversion of opioids for illicit purposes.

Board Chairman, John Welch, stated, “In 1999 our county had one opiate related death but by 2016 we had 6 such deaths.   That’s a 500% increase in opiate deaths not to mention all the increased deaths in the years since 1999.  Clearly, there has been a severe human cost in lives lost and those forever affected by opioid addiction.   But we also have substantial costs just from added expenses for law enforcement, DSS and the Health and Mental Health Departments dealing with this epidemic.”

County Attorney Anthony di Santi stated, “This 165 page Complaint makes clear the dire need for abatement of this public nuisance.  We are taking this action against the fundamental cause of the opioid epidemic – the manufacturers’ and distributors’ failure to follow well understood laws surrounding the marketing and distribution of highly addictive narcotics.  The drug manufacturers have spent millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that in our view deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.  And keep in mind, this suit requires no out of pocket expenditure of taxpayer money for attorney fees or expenses.”

Mike Fox, one of the attorneys hired by the county stated, “North Carolina is averaging nearly four deaths per day from opioid overdoses and our state’s hospital emergency departments experienced a nearly 40% increase in overdose cases from 2016 to 2017 all the while the three wholesale distributors control 85% of the market for prescription opioids with combined annual revenues of $400 billion.  They owe our citizens and county the duty of correctly reporting suspicious orders.  And opioid manufacturers owe a duty of fully and fairly warning of the risks of addiction to prescription opioids in the course of marketing these controlled substances.” 

Attorney Garry Whitaker pointed to recent public comments made by Dr. Blake Fagan, official with the Mountain Area Health Education Center, in a February 3, 2018 interview published in the Citizen Times of Asheville, “Dr. Blake Fagan says that ‘doctors were told time and again – during conferences, over lunches and at pain management seminars – that opioids like Vicodin, Percocet and oxycodone were the surest and safest ways to treat pain. They also emphasized that there were no addictive qualities. Pharmaceutical companies told [doctors] that less than 1 percent of people get addicted and that taking those pills will help to reduce pain and increase function in patients. But that couldn’t have been more false,’ according to Dr. Fagan of MAHEC.”