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Chambers & Associates – Prescription Drug Possession Attorneys Travis County (Austin)
Travis County joins other counties, cities suing over opioid crisis
Taylor Goldenstein-American-Statesman Staff
Travis County will join dozens of other counties and cities throughout the country attempting to recover costs from the opioid epidemic by suing manufacturers, distributors and marketers of the prescription drugs.
“This has been a long time coming,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said Tuesday. “This puts a very big strain on our criminal justice system as well as putting a big strain on our health community.”
Most of the specifics of the suit are still being worked out, officials said. Eckhardt said the county will work with attorneys to determine who will be named in the suit, what charges will be brought and when.
More than two dozen states, cities and counties, including several in Texas, have filed such lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, claiming the companies aggressively marketed the drugs and lied about the risks to make money.
Upshur County in East Texas was the first Texas county to file suit in late September, and Dallas, Tarrant, Kendall, Kerr and Bexar counties have indicated they plan to sue as well. Eckhardt said Travis County will likely consolidate with other interested parties to form one suit.
Texas has not filed suit so far, but Attorney General Ken Paxton announced in June that he was joining a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general to investigate whether manufacturers have used illegal methods to market and sell opioids and to determine their role in the crisis.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, and deaths from prescription opioids, including oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, have more than quadrupled since 1999.
A University of Texas study in 2014 found that Travis County had an overdose death rate of 2.3 per 100,000 people, one of the lowest rates among large Texas counties.
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Eckhardt and others have compared the wave of opioid-related suits hitting pharmaceutical industry to those that hit the tobacco industry in the 1990s, when cigarette companies agreed to pay billions of dollars in fines in the largest civil settlement in history.
Drug companies have largely denied wrongdoing. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America declined to comment Tuesday about the litigation targeting the industry, but the trade group issued a press release pledging to fund state and local programs and assist in policy changes to address the crisis.
“We are deeply committed to addressing the opioid crisis and advancing solutions that will make a meaningful difference for families and communities,” organization President and CEO Stephen J. Ubl said in the press release.
Some legal experts note a difference between the tobacco lawsuits, which involved customers using the products as intended, and the opioid lawsuits, which point to abuse of drugs beyond what a doctor prescribed, if a doctor prescribed the drugs at all.
“It is difficult to persuade courts that FDA-approved prescription drugs are defective and that their warnings are inadequate,” Richard Ausness, a University of Kentucky College of Law professor, told the Atlantic in June.