BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) — There 24 opioid overdose deaths in Beaufort County last year alIt’s. Its a growing problem that Beaufort County wants to stop.
So they are taking on the problem head on by taking them directly to court.
“Lost revenue, lost taxpayer dollars, because of the opiod crisis,” explained Attorney Matt Yelverton.
That’s why Beaufort County has filed a lawsuit in state court against 30 drug manufacturers, pharmacies and even “John Doe” doctors from Beaufort County for pushing opioids for their own benefit, even despite the dangers.
In 2010, 254,000,000 opioids were prescribed in America, that’s enough for every American adult to be dosed on opioids around the clock for a month.
“Manufacturers in the 90’s and early 2000, used key opinion doctors to tell outright falsehoods to the American people,” said Ben Shelton, attorney. “To the citizens of Beaufort County, to say that these drugs are safe, they are non-addictive or they do not have a high risk of addiction and they are safe for product use, we know that is not true.”
Yelverton said, “This was an effective deceptive marketing campaign, and the county’s in South Carolina are suffering real damages.”
According to the suit, drug companies convinced doctors and pharmacies that using opioids for pain outweighed the risks and misrepresented the dangers of long-term use.
Attorneys say the FDA approved the drugs, like Fentanyl and Oxycontin because of “misrepresentations” made my the drug companies themselves.
“(For example) A pharmacy that has built in flagging systems to let them know when there is potential abuse of an opioid,” said Shelton. “And those systems are ignored on not enforced and they profit form the continued distribution of pills despite flags that could have told them there’s a problem.”
The companies have gotten rich, the suit says, to the tune of $8 billion in revenue in 2012 alone while police and firefighters were left to spend their money battling the users left behind.
“The majority of their calls in some cases are in response to opioid overdoses and deaths. Firefighters are responding to opioid calls, not fires, police are not responding to car accident calls as much as opioid overdoses,” said Shelton. “When you have an officer who has to respond to a bedside in a hospital, that is an officer who is not on the street keeping the street safe.”
The damages, attorneys say, are “vast” and reach into the millions for Beaufort County.
The suit hopes to recoup the cost for materials, time, work hours and money used to battle the opioid crisis.
This is the first suit filed in South Carolina state court instead of federal court. That way the people of South Carolina can decide what’s right.
“We have decided it should be left in the hands of the people who live in the counties affected by this epidemic to decide how these manufacturers, distributors, doctors should be held accountable for the scurge they have unleashed on our state,” explained Yelverton.
Beaufort County may be the first to file but they probably won’t be the last in South Carolina. At least seven other counties have been contacted and could file in the next few months.
“Every single county has a distinct and separate case, every single county has distinct and separate damages. Every single county has been affected by this,” said Yelverton.
The South Carolina Attorney General already has his own statewide suit against the drug companies, and News 3 has learned several counties in Georgia are ready to file suits of their own. One of those in Chatham County.