ROCKINGHAM — The lawsuit Richmond County is filing against the corporations that make up the pharmaceutical industry is part of a reaction across the nation to the perceived carelessness with which prescription opiates have been marketed — downplaying addictive properties and highlighting their broad applications.
The county is one of about 400 governmental entities involved what is known as a multi-district litigation, distinct from a class-action lawsuit in which the damages would be divided up among the plaintiffs, according to The New York Times.
“The opioid lawsuit is just one step that can be taken to try and solve our problem,” Commissioner Ben Moss said in a text. “It’s too easy to get opioids … I’ve seen personally what it can do to people’s lives. Many steps need to be taken to rid our community of this.”
There are 22 defendants in the case representing each point along the supply chain, from drug manufacturers, like Teva Pharmaceuticals and Johnson and Johnson, to retailers like CVS and Walgreens. The plaintiffs allege that these corporations have neglected their duty to protect consumers and report suspicious orders for their products as required under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
“They’re just flooding the country with pills,” said Paul Coates, an attorney with Pinto Coates Kyre and Bowers, PLLC, who is representing Richmond County in the case.
The county is seeking compensation for extra expenses used to respond to the effects of widespread access to opioids, though there is no estimation of how much money could be awarded should the plaintiffs win the case. Coates said there will be a better idea of how much the plaintiffs could receive once the Ohio court handling the case settles a smaller sample size of cases.
There are dozens more plaintiffs in North Carolina, according to Coates. The contract between Richmond County and the McHugh Fuller Law Group, under which Coates is operating, states that if there is no recovery won in the case, the county will not owe any legal fees.
The Board of Commissioners voted in February to declare an opioid crisis in Richmond County.
The county is currently ranked fourth in the state in opiate pills per resident at 132.2 which is 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.
“It’s terrible what these drugs do to a person and their loved ones,” Moss said.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]