Michigan governments sue to recover costs tied to opioids - WNEM TV 5

Michigan governments sue to recover costs tied to opioids

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Cities and counties across Michigan are the latest to sue drug companies and retailers over the consequences of excessive opioid use.

They want the companies to reimburse local governments for the costs of responding to the crisis.

Lawsuits were filed Tuesday in federal court by Macomb County, Detroit, Genesee County, Saginaw County, Grand Traverse County, Delta County, Chippewa County, Lansing and Escanaba. Wayne and Oakland counties filed a lawsuit in October over marketing practices.

Lawyers want the cases added to litigation that's active in Ohio federal court.

Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, agrees there's an opioid abuse crisis. It supports efforts to limit the number of tablets during a first prescription.

The state says roughly 1,700 people died from opioid overdoses in Michigan in 2016, up 33 percent over 2015.

"We are treating right now eight overdoses every day in our emergency rooms just in Genesee County," Genesee County Commissioner Mark Young said.

For Young, the human toll related to opioids is staggering. That's why he said the county commission joined the lawsuit against the companies supplying the drugs.

He said opioids cost Genesee County a lot of money and a lot of lives.

"We've had to spend it on opioid addiction. And it goes from even officers carrying Narcan in their vehicles all the way up to dealing with a lot of extra deaths in our emergency rooms," Young said.

Attorney Mark Bernstein said first and foremost, the counties want to force the drug companies to change the way they do business. Then they hope to make them pay up for damages, which the amount is still up in the air because the cost of opioid abuse keeps going up.

"The list of details is long and it's expanding on a daily basis as we get to the bottom of the problem," Bernstein said.

Bernstein said getting any kind of judgment in the lawsuit is going to take a long time, but he hopes to make some kind of dent in the spread of this rampant addiction.

"For example, in Genesee County nearly half of all the inmates in the county jail are being treated for some kind of opioid or addiction related illness," Bernstein said.

The lawsuit alleges drug companies are over promoting and recklessly producing their products in the name of profits.

Young said he wants to make sure the county does everything it can to protect the lives of the people that live in his county.

"We always have to address the things that aren't always so nice in our community," Young said.

Meijer has become the latest retail pharmacy to adopt a new tracking system to help combat the opioid epidemic.

The new Michigan Automated Prescription System, or MAPS, gives pharmacies real-time information about potentially harmful prescribing trends and allows pharmacists to make better and more informed decisions.

Kroger also integrated with MAPS with year.

Fighting addiction

"Every day is a battle," said Adam White, recovering addict.

He has been clean for three weeks and he is working hard to stay that way. He knows all too well what can happen if he loses this battle.

"I do know of some people who died and overdosed, things like that. I would say three or four off the top of my head," White said.

White is at the RU Recovery Program. He supports the federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday by numerous municipalities throughout Michigan against pharmaceutical companies.

The legal action seeks monetary damages for their role in the opioid crisis.

White said he knows a lot of addicts that started on prescription drugs.

"I do have many friends who have lived blue collar lives or were upstanding citizen, got in a car accident and were prescribed prescription pills and were hooked. And the next thing you know they're on heroin because it's cheaper. It's more potent and it gets them jonesing for the drug," White said.

The director of the recovery program said he favors the lawsuit. He said something has to change.

"They have to come up with solutions that are different to treat pain, to treat illness. Narcotics is not the answer," Scott Cowling said.

Cowling said the rate of opioid addiction has exploded throughout the region.

"When I first started doing this 16 years ago, there was very few people that I dealt with that were addicted to opioids. And now about 90 percent of the people they start with pain pills and prescriptions that were given to them and then end up going to much stronger things," Cowling said.

As for White, he cherishes every day he stays clean. He urges everyone to do what they can to get off the path of addiction. He said that road will only lead to a tragic end.

"It's a dangerous game and so we're lucky to be alive," White said.

>>Click here for the complaint filed on behalf of Saginaw County<<

>>Click here for the complaint filed on behalf of Genesee County<<

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