County considers joining opioid suit

Published 5:51 pm Thursday, May 31, 2018

On Thursday, the Troup County Board of Commissioners considered a proposal to join a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers that would aim to recuperate costs incurred by states and counties. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and the Center for Disease Control have called the current opioid crisis an epidemic.

The multi district litigation includes counties, cities and states from across the United States. Trials are expected to begin by early in 2019.

“It is a financial problem for y’all, and this is the only way that I see for counties to be able to have a chance to recoup some of the cost, to help their community,” said Chris Clark, one of the lawyers involved in the case.

Clark said that without money from those behind the problem, the county would likely have to face raising taxes at some point. Clark and Dustin Davies, another lawyer, alleged that false statements from manufacturers to physicians had caused a massive increase in prescriptions without acknowledging potential risks to public health.

“Long before we receive data from death certificates, emergency department data can point to alarming increases in opioid overdoses,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat in a press release in March. “This fast-moving epidemic affects both men and women, and people of every age. It does not respect state or county lines and is still increasing in every region in the United States.”

The problem is not limited to just large cities either.

“We do know that our court costs are going up in leaps and bounds, and this is probably the main reason that has happened,” County Manager Tod Tentler said.

According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, for every 100 citizens in Troup County, there are 98.9 prescriptions for opioid medications.

“The main purpose [of this litigation] is to protect the financial interest of the counties cities and states going forward, looking at past losses and future losses,” Davies said. “What that is going to entail whether that is cost from probation, jail cost — we’ve had a lot of sheriff’s onboard that are really pushing that — DFACS costs, emergency EMT costs, fire department costs. A lot of officers are now being required to carry Narcan, which is the antidote when somebody is overdosing on opiates, and those are expensive to have in big numbers. Those are costs that are going to be eaten by counties and cities and that is what we are trying to address with these lawsuits.”

Troup County has programs and treatment courts that regularly work with individuals facing opioid addiction. These programs give those within the county a front seat view of the impact of opioid addiction.

“A lot of solicitors from around the state have already gotten involved with this because we see the after effects of what happens when it goes downhill, and I will tell you it is not uncommon for other counties to hover around 80 to 100 of these prescriptions – and some are over 100 prescriptions per 100 people,” said Marquette Baker, the Troup County solicitor-general. “It is really scary.”

These programs provide accountability and the resources necessary to discourage reoccurring arrests of the same individuals. However, the programs in Troup County are largely funded through state grants, and it is unclear what Georgia’s next governor’s policy on those grants will be.

“From the sheriff’s office, we are 100 percent [on board],” said Jon Whitney, the Troup County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy. “We started using Narcan about a year and a half ago due to the possible problems that we would have, specifically with opioid overdoses and Fentanyl, which are what we are having problems with.”

Whitney said that having Narcan protects not only citizens, but the deputies who are often the first to arrive on the scene when there is an overdose. He also said that the Narcan that TCSO currently uses was received through a grant program, but that batch will reach its expiration date soon and have to be replaced.

“I’m going to tell you, the cost for that is pretty stout to give all my road deputies and my investigators [Narcan],” Whitney said. “You have to carry about two vials of this stuff to hopefully reverse the effects in the county.”

If the county decides to file to become part of the case, there will not be any charge to the county for legal fees. However, the lawyers over the case will receive 30 percent of the settlement and the county will be expected to compile the necessary numbers to prove opioid related expenditures.

Baker said that she does not believe it would take a significant amount of time to compile the information. If the county were to lose the case, it would not lose any money, and the lawyers over the case would swallow the loss. About 70 counties in Georgia had signed up to be part of the multi district litigation as of Thursday, according to Clark.

The Troup County Board of Commissioners will meet on Tuesday at 9 a.m.