BY MELANIE WADE –
As the opioid epidemic continues to cause alarm across the country, the Arkansas Association of Counties (AAC) is hoping to do their part to combat the effort by filing a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies, who many say, are pushing their drugs for long term use, instead of the short term use they were approved for. This epidemic is causing problems in families, wrecking homes, loss of productivity, and addiction in both the young and old, the rich and the poor, and as of yet, has no end in sight.
For the coming lawsuit, the AAC is asking all 75 counties in Arkansas to join in the step to make pharmaceutical companies accountable for the problems their drugs are causing. Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. Medically they are primarily used for pain relief, including anesthesia. Examples of opioids are: morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Opioid drugs sold under brand names include: OxyContin®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Percodan®, Tylox® and Demerol® among others. Heroin is also an opioid and is illegal and is what many opioid addicts turn to when they can no longer find a doctor to write their prescriptions.
From overdoses, to jails being filled with addicted opioid users, to children in foster care because of addicted parents, a shrink in the workforce, and so many of society’s current problems stem from a prescription that was, at first, legally attained, but after long term use, was attained by whatever means necessary. “At any given time, 30% of the Polk County jail population is directly attributable to opioid use,” said County Judge Brandon Ellison. “We can’t simply arrest our way out of the crisis.”
Often times that means “doctor shopping” where individuals see multiple doctors and are receiving multiple prescriptions for the same drug. “There are federal laws in place to catch the ones that are getting multiple prescriptions.” However, those systems don’t always work.
Ellison, along with the AAC, and many others, agree that just placing people in jail isn’t the solution, so they are looking further up the chain, where the drugs are being invented, manufactured, and distributed. It has long been known, and proven through hundreds of lawsuits, that pharmaceutical companies knowingly distribute short term drugs for long term use. Ellison explained, “In early 2000’s doctors were encouraged by the drug manufacturers to reevaluate these medications and they were told over and over again that the opiates that were now available weren’t as addictive as previously believed. I want to say they tried to dupe the doctors and told them they were ok for long term use. That’s when doctors began prescribing them long term.”
In fact, several companies have admitted that very fact in multiple lawsuits – lawsuits that the companies settled for millions of dollars, admitting their guilt, yet they still continue the same practices. For this reason, Judge Ellison has asked the Polk County Quorum Court to join in the AAC’s lawsuit. “Our counties are the ones dealing with the problems these drugs cause,” said Ellison. “We should be compensated for that.” He explained that through the lawsuit, the AAC hopes to bring opioid drug awareness and education to the state, as well as crisis intervention. “There are so many that don’t understand what a large issue this is in our area,” Ellison said. Referencing a study by the Center for Disease Control, Ellison further explained, “There are 117 opioid prescriptions filled for every 100 people in Polk County.” In contrast,
More than 60 of Arkansas’ counties have joined the lawsuit and Ellison is hopeful that a win could mean less burden on the area. “In 2016, drug manufacturers sold $13 billion, that’s billion, with a ‘B’,” said Ellison, “in opioid pain drugs alone. And it can affect anyone. We’re seeing 60-year olds that are addicted.”
Not only has the AAC and dozens of counties backed the lawsuit, it has also been endorsed by the Arkansas Association of County Judges and the Arkansas Opioid Task Force.
If you or someone you know has a problem with opioid addiction, there are many local resources that are available to help. New Vision inside Mena Regional Health System is a medically-based detox program, there are several counselors in the area, and group meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous (check the Pulse Calendar of Events on page 20 for dates and locations.)
“We want this activity stopped and we want compensation for the damages it has caused our counties,” Ellison concluded.