Lawsuits not entire solution to community’s opioids issue

The impact of opioids on Indiana counties, and those nationwide, is undeniable. Increasing addiction to such drugs has destroyed lives and families, and caused deaths, and put a greater burden on law enforcement and medical resources.

In some communities the situation is best described as a crisis.

The term applies in Bartholomew County, where the final count of overdose deaths for 2017 was 30 — reflecting a 150 percent year-over-year increase. Of the 30 fatalities, 26 of them were opioid-related.

This is troublesome, concerning and frustrating.

Some Indiana counties and communities have been filing lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, seeking awards for damages related to impact.

Bartholomew County has not filed such a lawsuit, but Jennings County recently joined other counties in taking such a legal action. The 162-page document filed by the Jennings County Commissioners targets 10 opioid manufacturers and three distributors. It seeks reimbursement for:

  • Medical care, therapy and related expenses
  • Counseling, treatment and rehabilitation
  • Treating infants born with opioid-related conditions
  • Caring for children whose parents are addicted
  • Law enforcement and public safety resources
  • The Jennings lawsuit accuses the manufacturers of:
  • Creating a false perception of the safety and effectiveness of opioids in the minds of medical professionals
  • Failing to identify, report and stop suspicious orders
  • Encouraging long-term and widespread usage of opioids despite knowing prolonged use contributes to addiction

Such lawsuits likely will help in the overall conversation about the benefits and detriments of opioids, and how they are prescribed and in what dosage levels. Changes are needed, and these types of lawsuits may help in creating changes sooner than later.

Ultimately, they may return some money to counties and communities who filed the lawsuits.

However, the lawsuits are not a magic bullet and may not provide the short-term help communities need to deal with opioid addiction. Lawsuits can drag out, especially with appeals and deep pockets to pay attorneys. Legislative and regulatory changes can move slowly, too.

That still puts the burden on local communities to come up with solutions to the problem. Bartholomew County is a good example. It has created a task force — Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP) in Bartholomew County — that is using the collaborative help of community stakeholders to attack addiction and opioid abuse.

Among initiatives expected to start by the end of this year are:

Opening at least one new residential treatment center

Launching a program that provides nurse coaches to expectant new mothers, including possible addicts

Establishing a family recovery court dealing exclusively in cases involving parental rights that arise out of substance abuse

Finalizing updates to health and science curriculum within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. to address the opioid crisis

The lawsuit filed by Jennings County, as well as those by other communities, are meaningful because they shine the spotlight on aspects of the opioid abuse problem that are not as well known but significant. However, they’re only one part of the solution.

Communities still must join forces with stakeholders to collaboratively identify solutions and execute strategies to reduce addiction and opioid abuse, which is the path Bartholomew County set out upon in April.

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