The Kansas City suburb of Overland Park recently joined a growing list of municipalities to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers that officials claim are pumping drugs into communities while downplaying the dangers.
“These actions have greatly enriched the manufacturers and distributors who have profited immensely from the rampant overuse, abuse and addiction to prescription opioids that exists in the city of Overland Park, in Kansas and in the United States,” according to the federal lawsuit cited by The Kansas City Star.
The Kansas City law firm Wagstaff & Cartmell filed the lawsuit on behalf of the city Wednesday, joining 19 other cities and counties in Kansas and Missouri, and more than 1,000 governments nationwide, to sue over the epidemic of addiction that’s destroyed families, increased law enforcement and health costs, and led thousands to illegal heroin, the news site reports.
The situation is wreaking havoc on Overland Park, where the prescription rate hit 93.8 prescriptions per 100 people in 2012, 16th in the nation.
Paramedics in Johnson County, which includes Overland Park and other Kansas City suburbs, administered the overdose-reversing drug Narcan 273 times in just the last year, and locals are now working to stock schools with the drug, WDAF reports.
Data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year highlighted the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic across the country, and in the Midwest in particular.
The CDC reports the number of overdose cases arriving at emergency departments skyrocketed by 70 percent in the 14 months leading up to September 2017. In 2016, 116 people died every day in the U.S. from opioid abuse, and the situation has only gotten worse.
According to Newsweek:
Experts put the cause of the current crisis on the United States’ overreliance on opioids for pain relief, stemming from the 1990s, when health care providers increased the rate at which they prescribed them at the behest and assurance of pharmaceutical companies.
As the number of opioid addicts grew, so did the black market. Drug traffickers promptly cashed in, importing larger amounts of heroin and more recently fentanyl, an extremely strong synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin.
More than 1,000 lawsuits against dozens of drug producers like Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of Oxycontin, are being consolidated in a federal court in Cleveland, where trials are scheduled to start next year.
In the meantime, the judge is urging the parties to reach a master settlement similar to the one reached with Big Tobacco in the late 1990s, according to the Star.
And while any agreement will undoubtedly help recover some of the obvious costs associated with the opioid epidemic, parents and others left in the wake of overdose deaths are continuing to press for important changes, from ensuring all first responders and schools have Narcan on hand, to drug testing policies and other measures with a proven record of curbing abuse.
“I think what you need to understand about this crisis, the opioid crisis, is it could be any kid,” Leewood resident Gary Henson, who lost his son Garrett to an opioid overdose, told the Star. “I really want to make positive change because I don’t want people to feel like I do, I don’t want people to experience what I experienced. I don’t want people to have aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters have to show up at someone’s funeral.
“This is, I’m telling you, the worst epidemic I’ve ever seen, and I think it’s only going to get geometrically worse,” he said.