The ongoing opioid crisis is by far the biggest public health crisis that America is currently facing. North Carolina is not immune to the wide-reaching effects of this crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016 there were 1,505 opioid-related deaths in North Carolina or 15.4 deaths per 100,000 which were slightly higher than the national average. In 2015, North Carolina providers wrote 86.8 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, which amounted roughly 8.7 million prescriptions. In the same year, the national average was much lower at 70 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. Further, heroin accounted for 3,924 of the 5,745, or 68 percent of the emergency rooms visit in North Carolina in 2017.
These numbers are beyond troubling and the effects of the opioid crisis have the potential to break all of the bonds that hold together local communities. What are we as a country to do about this issue then? There have been many proposals but one that seems to always gain popularity is to sue the opioid makers.
A resolution adopted by the Lee County Commissioners does just that by joining together with other local municipalities in moving forward with a lawsuit against the drug manufacturers. One of the County Commissioners, Kirk Smith, offered these comments (starting at 23:15) about joining on to a lawsuit to sue a manufacturer:
While there is no one proposal that could fix this complex health issue, Commissioner Smith’s comments do pose some serious questions for policymakers and concerned citizens that need to consider when attempting to fix the problem through public policy or litigation. What is the role of local governments in this issue? What is the role of state governments? What is the role of the federal government in curtailing support for countries we know are producing deadly fentanyl? Which is the bigger issue – legal prescriptions or illegal heroin? Are opioid manufacturers the ones to blame? Should taxpayers pick up the cost of this epidemic? Are there enough resources for those who struggle with addiction and are seeking help? Is the penalty high enough for those who chose to traffic drugs? Are emergency rooms the correct location to treat these people? What role do we as citizens have to play in helping our neighbors who fall victim to this epidemic?
No one piece of policy or lawsuit will end this epidemic. But we should carefully consider policies that could bring unintended consequences which will only exacerbate the situation.