Next Step in the Opioid Crisis: Litigation

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By Dyanna Ballou: Dyanna is a first-chair trial attorney who has practiced law for over thirty years, primarily representing defendants in the areas of product liability, toxic torts, medical malpractice, personal injury, and premises liability. She has tried numerous cases to verdict in courts across the country.


The ravages of the nation’s opioid crisis are regular topics in the news today. The costs in damaged lives, health-care expenses, lost productivity, and criminal activity are ever-growing. Now a new avenue for recouping those costs is opening: the plaintiffs’ bar is actively recruiting state and local governments to sue opioid manufacturers to recover the costs of combating the use of opioids. States, cities, and counties are signing up in record numbers, seeking reimbursement for the costs of battling opioid addiction.

The first lawsuit was filed in 2015 by Mississippi’s Attorney General. Now these lawsuits are filed almost weekly. And that certainly will continue, considering the enormous problem of opioid dependency. In 2016, almost 63 million Americans received a prescription for an opioid drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 50 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. We all are familiar with famous names such as Prince, Heath Ledger, and Tom Petty. They represent thousands of other citizens who have had the same sad fate. In addition to death, drug abuse can result in criminal activity and broken lives as addicts who cannot get the painkillers through legal prescriptions turn to illegal drugs such as heroin and the synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil. Synthetic opioids are a frightening development. Fentanyl is 10,000 times stronger than morphine, and carfentanil is 100 times stronger than an equal dose of fentanyl. Misusing these powerful drugs even once can result in death.

Managing this tidal wave has devastated city, county, and state budgets because of the high costs of police, courts, incarceration, medical care, and addiction treatment. As one example, every day over 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for misusing prescription opioids—not to mention the hidden costs of child welfare needs for families torn apart by opioid abuse, babies born to addicted mothers, and even seemingly minor costs such as using city employees to clean up used syringes left in parks. In November 2017, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors calculated the cost of the opioid crisis at $504 billion in 2015 alone. Despite this, when President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October 2017, neither he nor Congress allocated any extra money to state or local authorities to combat the issue.