Colleton joins counties going after drug companies

by | June 28, 2018 5:00 am

Last Updated: June 27, 2018 at 10:45 am

Colleton has joined the growing number of South Carolina counties that are suing drug companies, pharmacy chains and others in the growing opioid crisis.
The lead law firm in the Colleton civil case is Marc J. Bern and Partners, a New York law firm. That firm is working with law firms throughout the state on the suits. Locally, Bert “Skip” Utsey of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick of Walterboro is working on the suit. Utsey referred all questions to Bern and Partners.
The suit names over 25 defendants, including drug manufacturing and distribution companies like Johnson & Johnson and Teva.
Approximately half of South Carolina’s 46 counties have filed suits and more counties are expected to join the list.
Each lawsuit is filed in South Carolina state courts in an effort to insure that local communities help determine the issues at stake.
The counties claim the defendants were aware of the addictive nature of certain medications but failed to warn the prescribers and patients.
The suits are being filed on a county-by-county basis to recoup taxpayer funds lost because of the acts of the named defendants.
A press release issued to announce the filing, states “In 2015, the United States broke a new record — but not the kind it would like to promote. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015, more than any year on record. Though various government offices, educational facilities, nonprofits and other awareness groups have made valiant efforts to combat this epidemic, 91 still die in the U.S. every day from abuse and misuse. In addition to the horrible human toll, these conditions drain county resources and budgets.
“Opioid use has historically been characterized by a drug dealer in a dark alley or a shabby apartment, which is still an accurate depiction,” according to the press release.
“However,” the release continues, “on a larger scale, opioid distribution can be traced to major pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers. Case-in-point: the amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported. Deaths from prescription opioids — drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone — have more than quadrupled since 1999.”
The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that the annual economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the U.S. for 2015 is over $500 billion dollars; an amount that includes the cost of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
Those statistics led the federal government to designate opioid addiction a national emergency last year.
Statistics contained in the press release suggest that “in Colleton County, no less than eight lives were lost in 2016 due to opioid overdoses, and 1,435 opioids prescriptions were dispensed per 1,000 residents, according to SCDODAS statistics.”
More facts and figures from the 144-page lawsuit include:
• One analysis shows that Medicaid recipients within Colleton County were prescribed enough opioids to provide between 527 and 726 milligrams of the drugs for each county resident in 2016.
• According to data published by the CDC, the rate of drug overdoses has increased as much as 390 percent between 1999 and 2015.
• The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reports that 70.3 percent of all overdose deaths in the state involved opioids.
• Colleton County invested in training first responders to administer Naloxone to combat opioid related deaths. In fact, the rate of Naloxone administrations within Colleton County was 108 per 100,000 residents in 2016.
“It’s the firm’s hope that they can spark the change among multinational corporations, have placed profits over people.” said Joe Cappelli, senior partner at Marc J. Bern and Partners.
“These companies have exacted a toll on society that may take years to eradicate,” said Cappelli. “Thousands of lives are continually at stake. We hope our work will prevent more tragedies and possibly inspire other affected parties to stand up to drug makers and hold them accountable.”

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