Dauphin County Commissioners join legal fight against opioid manufacturers they say hid addictive nature of the drugs
HARRISBURG, PA (September 25, 2017) – In the continuing effort to stem the tide of misery caused by the opioid epidemic, the Dauphin County Commissioners today announced they were joining the legal fight against pharmaceutical companies to get them to undo some of the damage caused by their products.
“Many of those seeking drug addiction treatment for heroin and other opioids initially got hooked by using prescription drugs, many times legally obtained after injuries or surgeries,’’ said Commission Chairman Jeff Haste.
The commissioners retained the Young, Ricchiuti, Caldwell & Heller, LLC to pursue the lawsuit on a contingency basis, meaning taxpayers will not be responsible for legal costs and the county will share in any money recovered. All money recovered will go toward paying for drug abuse treatment and prevention programs, the commissioners said.
“We see an addiction epidemic caused in large part by the aggressive marketing of opioids by big pharma,’’ Haste said. “It's time these drug companies take responsibility and pay to help undo some of the damage they caused.”
The cost – in lives and dollars – is staggering and heartbreaking:
· Through August, more than 60 people in Dauphin County died from overdoses and last year there were 85 deaths – surpassing the number killed in car accidents.
· From June 2016 to the end of July 2017, Dauphin County spent $19.6 million to help 2,859 people suffering from addiction. That marked an 860 percent increase in treatment dollars and more than 400 percent increase in those needing help from 2012-13.
· In 2016, in 30 percent of the cases where Dauphin County had to remove children from their home for their own protection, parental drug use was the main reason.
· Throughout Pennsylvania, opioid overdoses killed 4,642 people, a 37 percent increase from 2015, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency data.
“These drug companies aggressively marketed opioid pain mediation despite knowing about – and not warning of – the risk of abuse and addiction,’’ said Commissioner Mike Pries. “It’s time for the opioid drug manufacturers to stop being the root of the problem and start becoming part of the solution.’’
Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III, who oversees the county’s Human Services, said the county has an ever-growing need for inpatient and community drug addiction treatment services.
“The only way we are going to stop the damage opioids are doing to our families and communities is by committing enough resources for drug treatment and prevention,’’ Hartwick said. “We know treatment saves lives and this lawsuit against the drug manufacturers is about getting the money we can use to save more lives.
Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, whose son, Gene Jr., is in long-term recovery from opioid addiction, praised the commissioners’ actions and called for more local governments to get involved.
“Until those who produce these drugs and profit from their use are held accountable, there is no incentive for these companies to be socially responsible and bring an end to these senseless and tragic overdoses,” said DiGirolamo, who chairs the state House Human Services Committee.
Middletown resident Wendy Loranzo, who started the Elizabeth Loranzo I Care Foundation addiction support group, named for her 25-year-old daughter who died earlier this year from heroin mixed with fentanyl, applauded the commissioners’ action. Loranzo, who cares for her daughter’s 14-month-old son, said the lawsuit is necessary to send a message to drug companies and force them to address the damage they’ve done.
“The fact that the Dauphin County Commissioners are taking the lead on this, I could not be happier,’’ said Loranzo, whose organization helps link those needing help with treatment. “For me, it’s a personal issue with the pharmaceutical companies and I feel they definitely should be contributing a certain percentage of their sales to fund these rehabilitation services.’’
Earlier this year, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced he was joining with more than 40 other states to investigate drug manufacturer’s responsibility, likening it to the successful effort against cigarette companies that resulted in money to address smoking-related health issues. A number of other Pennsylvania communities are also joining in lawsuits, including Lackawanna and Delaware counties and Bensalem Township in Bucks County. Other states suing include Ohio and Missouri.
Some lawsuits have already been successful. In 2015, Kentucky settled a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for $24 million.
The Dauphin County Commissioners have also taken the following steps to combat the opioid epidemic:
· Hired two mobile care managers to respond to emergency room overdoses to secure treatment for those suffering from addiction. Over the past year, the caseworkers have done more than 100 assessments and referred more than 50 people into immediate treatment.
- Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico has received grants to provide training and the overdose reversal drug, naloxone—which goes by the brand name Narcan – to police throughout the county. The commissioners have received funding to provide Narcan and training in its use to other first responders, such as ambulance crews, as well as to families and friends of addicts. Between November 2015 and June 1, 2017, law enforcement officers in the county saved overdose victims from the brink of death more than 100 times.
- Inmates released from Dauphin County Prison will be registered in treatment programs so they can continue the progress they are making without interruption.
- The county is expanding the availability of medical treatments which manage opioid dependence, including methadone, suboxone and vivitrol, which is also used to treat alcohol dependence.
- Working with area treatment providers, such as Gaudenzia Common Ground, to reduce the waiting list for treatment, especially detox beds.
For more information or to get help, call Dauphin County Drug and Alcohol Services at 717-635-2254 or visit www.DauphinCounty.org.