Onslow Co., Jacksonville to sue pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis

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ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WNCT)–Communities across the East have been fighting the opioid epidemic at hospitals, through emergency services and also law enforcement. Now Onslow County and the City of Jacksonville are fighting back with lawsuits aimed at drug manufacturers.

If they’re successful, the money would go back into treatment and education locally.

“Also law enforcement,” David Cotton, Onslow County manager, said. “Those funds would only be used for those purposes so that the local tax dollars are not used.”

Jacksonville ranks 12th in the nation for opioid abuse, and it’s costly both in the county and in the city.

Cotton conservatively estimates between $5 and $10 million are spent annually across Onslow County.

The city estimates it spends more than $1 million.

“In 2016, the Jacksonville Police Department spent over 16,000 hours, the equivalent of 8 full-time officers over the course of a year, dealing with mental health and substance abuse,” Dr. Richard Woodruff, city manager, said.

The lawsuits seek reimbursement for the money spent and are being handled by a national law firm. Each one alleges opioid manufacturers failed to follow federal guidelines.

“They’re supposed to have parameters and matrices that show the number of pills going into communities in line with their populations,” Dr. Woodruff said. “What the lawyers have found is that they haven’t met those guidelines.”

According to DHHS, in the last 17 years, more than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses. Locally, 8 prescriptions were dispensed for every 10 residents in Onslow County, according to the public information officer.

“Onslow County is committed to the long-term and this lawsuit, should we prevail, will be that funding vehicle for us,” Cotton said.

No taxpayer dollars are being used in either lawsuit. There’s also no risk to the city or county if they fail. Lawyers will, however, receive up to 30% of the money if the lawsuits are successful.

The county and city hope to have them filed in federal court as soon as possible.

The lawsuits are only the latest in the cooperation between both entities as well as Carteret County, Onslow Memorial and Carteret General hospitals. The area’s first substance abuse and mental health crisis center is currently in the works. It’s scheduled for 2018, with construction bids starting as early as this Spring. It’s estimated to cost around $1.6 million.

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