Richmond County joins legal fight against opioid manufacturers

By: By Gavin Stone - Staff Writer

ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Board of Commissioners voted to join a wide-reaching lawsuit against the manufacturers of prescription opiates Tuesday, seeking damages relating to the increased opioid addiction and mortality rates associated with over-prescribing the drugs.

The judge presiding over the case is based in Ohio, where settlement discussions with other local governments will likely begin this year, but it could be as late as 2020 before any lawsuit in North Carolina goes to court, according to Paul Coates, local counsel for McHugh Fuller Law Group which is representing Richmond County in the lawsuit.

“This litigation focuses on the manufacturers and wholesale distributors and their role in the diversion of millions of prescription opiates into the illicit market which has resulted in opioid addiction, abuse, morbidity and mortality,” reads the contract between the county and McHugh Fuller. “There is no easy solution and no precedent for such an action against this sector of the industry.”

Richmond County is currently ranked fourth in the state in opioid pills per resident at 132.2 — well above the state average of 78.3 — according to statistics from the County Leadership Forum on Opioid Abuse. The county’s rate of unintentional medication and drug overdose rates are also significantly higher than the state average at 18.8 deaths per 100,000 residents compared to 12.2 statewide, according to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics.

The lawsuit will seek reimbursement for “the costs incurred in the past fighting the opioid epidemic and/or to recover the funds necessary to abate the health and safety crisis caused by the unlawful conduct of the manufacturers and the wholesale distributors.”

The board also approved the donation of the McLaurin Center property to the county, though the donation has not been formally approved by the Center’s governing board. The donation includes 21 parcels and eight warehouses, which County Manager Bryan Land called a “great opportunity.”

Commissioners also voted to:

• demolish two condemned buildings;

• approve an interlocal agreement extension between the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and the town Ellerbe;

• approve a resolution for local water-supply plan;

• re-appoint Economic Developer Martie Butler to the Southeastern Economic Development Commission;

• approve dates for the Equalization and Review Board meeting to hear any 2018 tax appeals;

• approve a Tobacco Trust Fund application for a $16,636 grant to purchase equipment;

• appoint Shelia McInnis to the Agriculture Advisory Board; and

• approve a hazard mitigation plan.

Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]

By Gavin Stone

Staff Writer