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More communities join lawsuit to get drugmakers to pay for costs of opioid crisis

prescription pill bottle
Melissa Benmark
Michigan Radio

The prescription opioid drug addiction problem not only takes its toll on individuals and families. It also costs local governments in many different ways -- from emergency medical services to more police work.

Some municipalities are signing on to a lawsuit against the manufacturers and distributors of the prescription painkillers.

One of the attorneys filing that lawsuit is Mark Bernstein.

He says the societal and economic burdens of the opioid crisis are huge, and that much of the financial costs have been paid by taxpayer money.

Mark Bernstein
Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Mark Bernstein

“The costs are estimated by the National Council of Economic Advisors in a brief filed with the court in this litigation as being about $504 billion -- 2.7% of the GDP of this country. Twenty-five percent of those costs are estimated to fall on the public sector, primarily municipalities, counties, and cities, and in some instances, states involving Medicaid expenses.”

Bernstein says the defendants in the lawsuit -- the opioid manufacturers and distribution companies -- are at the center of what he considers to be the deadliest and most costly drug epidemic in American history.

“These companies have been involved in … misrepresenting, diverting, and promoting the misuse of these drugs. These are highly addictive drugs.”

Bernstein explains that this isn’t a typical pharmaceutical litigation, where you allege that a particular drug was manufactured incorrectly or didn’t do what it was supposed to do.

“In this particular case,” he says, “these drugs are doing exactly what they’re designed to do. And in many instances -- or in very narrow instances, I should say, they’re invaluable drugs for people who are suffering pain. They are perfect and necessary in certain oncological applications or in certain post-surgical circumstances.”

But, he says, opioids weren’t meant to be prescribed for common medical problems such as root canals or soft tissue back injuries.

Bernstein puts the blame on the marketing strategies of pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers, not the doctors who prescribed the medications.

“These pharmaceutical companies … essentially said these aren’t addictive. In some instances, they went so far to say that if a patient that you did a particular procedure on isn’t complaining about pain, they are actually in more pain than they’re telling you and you should prescribe more opioids.”

Bernstein adds that the companies relied on pushing opioids into the hands of patients.

“The state of Michigan has 1.2 opioid prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in the state. In some counties it’s even higher.”

Listen to the full interview above.

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