More than 500,000 people died from fatal opioid overdoses between 1999-2019, but who is responsible? The fatal misuse or overdose of opioids has continued to grow, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown. CNN reported that the death toll climbed to over 69,000 in 2020, attributing the increase partially to the pandemic.
Many believe that a chain of people is responsible for this uptick in the opioid crisis that has gripped the nation. Blame continues to be shifted from the manufacturers to the distributors, from the doctors prescribing opioids to the pharmacists filling the prescriptions, to the people misusing the drugs. More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed against pharmacies, distributors and drugmakers.
Four pharmacy chains have settled claims in two New York state counties for playing an active role in fueling the opioid addiction epidemic there. Walmart, Rite-Aid, CVS and Walgreens paid out a collective $26 million.
In the settlement, the first that places blame on the pharmacies, the pharmacies did not admit to any wrongdoing. It’s believed to be the first trial of its kind to go before a jury. Various companies involved in opioid-related litigation have consistently claimed that they follow regulations and are not responsible for the health crisis. Suffolk County’s legislature disagreed by approving the settlement in July, voting to accept a payout of more than $21.5 million.
Nassau County’s legislature, who will vote on the settlement in August, has signaled their intention to follow suit. On June 9, Nassau lawmakers unanimously passed the creation of a revenue fund that would directly support the battle against opioid addiction with treatment, education and prevention programs.
“This special revenue fund is going to be a giant step forward to enabling these organizations, these groups, these programs, to have the funds necessary to end this epidemic,” said Legis. Laura Schaefer (R-Westbury).
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) echoed that the Democrats will work collaboratively to “support any measure that will ensure the most efficient and impactful use of these life-saving resources.”
“Nassau County is paying a painful price to heal the damage caused by the opioid epidemic and no amount of money will replace the countless lives that have been affected,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in a statement.
In July, New York Governor Cuomo signed a bill that would create a similar fund statewide, tentatively called the Opioid Settlement Fund. All settlement funds received by the state in outcomes related to ongoing litigation on the opioid crisis would be allocated into this fund. They would pay for programs and services that support abatement efforts and addiction treatment and recovery.
Recently, members of the Sackler family reached a $4.5 billion settlement with 15 different states. The Sackler family founded and owns Purdue Pharma – the manufacturer of Oxycontin – one of several opioids at the center of the epidemic. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September 2019.
Families of those directly affected by opioids are hopeful that someone will finally be held accountable as the 3,000 lawsuits filed against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies go before the court. As more states allocate settlement funds, advocates are hopeful that these funds will be utilized to help put an end to this preventable national crisis.