Watauga County Agrees to Join 26 Other North Carolina Counties in Opioid Lawsuit

Published Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 12:21 pm

By Nathan Ham

Opioid abuse is a problem in so many towns and counties, not just in North Carolina, but in every state around the country.

On Tuesday, the Watauga County Commissioners unanimously approved joining 26 other North Carolina counties in a lawsuit against opioid pain killer manufacturers and distributors.

Attorney Garry B. Whitaker of Winston-Salem spoke to the commissioners about joining the lawsuit.

Whitaker spoke to commissioners in Caldwell County earlier in March and also got them on board with the lawsuit. According to Whitaker, declaring the drug as a public nuisance allows counties to get involved with the lawsuit.

North Carolina General Statute 19-1 states that any building or placed used for the sale or possession of any controlled substance as defined by the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act constitutes a nuisance.

This lawsuit, according to documents provided to the commissioners, is targeting wholesale distributors and not local pharmacies or doctors in any of the counties involved.

Under North Carolina law, counties are allowed to seek relief in order to try and shrink the effects of the opioid epidemic, including requiring the wholesale distributors to forfeit income earned through unlawful activity.

Distributors and manufacturers are being targeted in this state-wide lawsuit mainly because of their failures to report suspicious opioid orders to the DEA and any other agencies associated with trying to slow the opioid epidemic.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Watauga County had 64 opiate-related deaths from 1999 to 2016. There were 42 opiate-related deaths in Avery County, 52 in Ashe County and 173 in Caldwell County over that same period of time.

“The drug manufacturers have spent millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials, that in our view trivialize the high risks of using opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain,” Whitaker said in a press release. “Three wholesale distributors control at least 85 percent of the market share for distribution of prescription opioids, they have combined annual revenues of $480 billion. Certainly, they owe the citizens and county the duty of correctly reporting suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency, which we contend they have not done properly.”

Across the state, opioid overdoses that required emergency room visits have nearly doubled since 2010. In North Carolina, there were 2,967 emergency room visits from opioid overdoses. That number climbed to 5,762 in 2017. There have already been 844 emergency room visits in the first two months of 2018.

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