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A new drug menace and no place is safe PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 12 October 2017 15:52

There is no safe haven from this plague.
    Places like Ozaukee County—with its appealing suburban and rural character displayed in small communities with educated and relatively prosperous populations—were once unlikely to be touched by more than a glancing blow from the drug miseries that plague America’s biggest cities. No more. Drug addiction is now a fact of life here and virtually everywhere. And everyone is paying for it one way or another.
    Here is one way, as explained by Ozaukee County Administrator Jason Dzwinel: “Opioid addiction and mental health issues, which are pretty much entwined, drive a significant amount of our budget. Look at the case load in the child protective services and you’ll see it’s drastically up. We don’t have enough foster homes for kids. This is being driven by mental health problems and opioid addiction.”
    The costs are paid in other ways too: In drug addiction’s growing demands on local and county police and prosecutors; in the burden on health care resources; and, most tragically, in its human toll—the ruined lives of adults and the psychological and physical damage to the children of parents too dependent on drugs to care for them. It’s happening right here in our beloved small towns.
    There is no mystery about the cause of this pain. It is the addiction to prescription pain pills such as oxycodone that act like opium and heroin and are just as addictive. Addicts not only support a criminal black market in the drugs, but are vulnerable to becoming heroin users.
    The financial burden caused by opioids has become so significant that government agencies in many states are turning to the courts in the hope of compensation from the pharmaceutical companies that market narcotic pain pills.
    Ozaukee County has been asked to join a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Counties Association against so-called Big Pharma. The suit claims the companies should be made to pay because they “flooded the market with highly addictive drugs claiming they were safe and efficacious for long-term use, manufactured studies to support those false claims and knowingly misrepresented the addictive nature of these drugs.”
    There is no question the counties could use help in dealing with the opioid epidemic. Their state association asked the Walker administration for an additional $13.5 million is state funding for child and family services related to the epidemic, but were granted less than half of that in the state budget.
    Ozaukee County should sign on to the suit. As a plaintiff, it would only have to document its costs of dealing with the societal ills of opioid addiction. There would be no financial commitment, yet the county would share in any settlement or court-awarded payment.
     There are caveats, though. One is that winning the suit may be a long shot. Successful lawsuits by the states against tobacco companies are seen as the model for the litigation, but the parallels are fuzzy. Unlike cigarettes, the narcotic pain-killers are FDA approved medicine that when properly used serve a legitimate health care need.
    Another is that even a court victory with a big payoff, while it would help agencies cover the costs of dealing with the results of opioid addiction, would not slow the epidemic. That will take work to prevent addiction, which should be a state and federal responsibility, including efforts to control the over-prescribing of narcotic pain pills by physicians and counseling patients about the risks of opioid use even when needed after surgery or injury.        
    Meanwhile, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses each year than from car crashes and gun violence. Two-thirds of those deaths are blamed on opioids, and some are happening here in our communities. It will take more than lawsuits to change that.

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