Travis County filed suit against manufacturers, distributors and marketers of pharmaceutical opioids for damages and penalties and for all other relief available by law, a Feb. 5 press release stated.
The National Institute on Drug Use defines opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers available by prescription such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated opioids killed more than 42,000 people nationwide in 2016, more than any year on record. In 2015, 1,186 of the 33,000 nationwide opioid-related deaths were in Texas. A Travis County Medical Examiners office 2016 annual report stated heroin was detected in 43 autopsies, while hydrocodone and oxycodone were detected in 39 and 24 autopsies, respectively. Methadone and fentanyl have been detected during county autopsies as well, the report stated. The numbers found in the toxicology report does not necessarily reflect a drug overdose death.
According to court documents, the economic burden caused by opioid abuse in the United States is at least $78.5 billion, including lost productivity and increased social services, health insurance costs, increased criminal justice presence and strain on judicial resources and substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation.
“Aggressive marketing for the overuse and consequent addiction to pharmaceutical opioids has caused real harm in our community and among our families,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “This legal action is necessary to stop the harvesting of profits from human suffering.”
The commissioners court voted to take this first step in pursuing claims on behalf of Travis County during a December meeting. Travis County attorneys and outside counsel will work together to recover damages to help mitigate the impact that the opioid epidemic has had on the Travis County community.
“As elected officials, it is our responsibility to protect constituents from those who wish to take advantage of their pain to make a quick dollar,” Eckhardt said. “The filing of this lawsuit is a first step to recovery.”
County officials were not yet able to comment on the dollar amount that could be recovered through this effort.