Bucks County takes strong stand in fight against opioids

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - NEWS - Greg Vell­ner Colum­nist Greg Vell­ner is a colum­nist for Mont­gomery Me­dia.

Sounds like “fake news,” doesn’t it?

A $20 mil­lion prison ex­pan­sion to ac­com­mo­date the in­crease in the Bucks County in­mate pop­u­la­tion due to opi­oid ad­dic­tion; some $4 mil­lion in an­nual out­sourc­ing costs to house Bucks County in­mates in other pris­ons due to over­crowd­ing by the ad­dic­tion epi­demic; and hir­ing two ad­di­tional Bucks County Coro­ner’s Of­fice em­ploy­ees to han­dle the in­flux of opi­oid-re­lated deaths and pay funeral ex­penses for a num­ber of un­claimed vic­tims.

It’s all “real news.” In ad­di­tion to an in­creas­ing num­ber of Bucks County res­i­dents killed by opi­oid over­dose, the news items are some of the side ef­fects that have hit Bucks and in­spired the county re­cently to file a 159-page law­suit against ma­jor man­u­fac­tures and dis­trib­u­tors of pre­scrip­tion opioids.

“You can’t put a price or value on hu­man life, but the county can put a price on the col­lat­eral costs of deal­ing with this epi­demic,” said Robert G. Lough­ery, chair­man, Bucks County Com­mis­sion­ers.

The hu­man loss alone in this epi­demic is stag­ger­ing and dev­as­tat­ing and needs our at­ten­tion. There were 232 res­i­dents killed last year by opi­oid over­dose, an 89 per­cent in­crease over 2015. Now add in the “col­lat­eral costs” that have ranged far and im­pact us like prison over­pop­u­la­tion and Coro­ner’s Of­fice im­pacts. This epi­demic is costly.

There were other ways, like cre­ation of a six-de­tec­tive, $900,000-a-year Drug Strike Force by the county District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in the bat­tle; a 66.5 per­cent in­crease in 911 emer­gency opi­oid-re­lated tele­phone calls since 2012, with each call tak­ing about 30 min­utes to re­solve at a cost of about $30 apiece; and NAR­CAN pur­chases.

The county law­suit seeks an un­de­ter­mined amount of dam­ages from 17 cor­po­rate de­fen­dants and one in­di­vid­ual al­leged to be re­spon­si­ble for the deadly and costly wave. The cor­po­rate en­ti­ties in­clude the largest pro­duc­ers of pre­scrip­tion opioids like Pur­due Pharma, cre­ator of OxyCon­tin. That drug makes up 30 per­cent of the anal­gesic painkiller mar­ket and has an­nual na­tional sales of $3.1 bil­lion. The in­di­vid­ual de­fen­dant is John Kapoor, founder and for­mer CEO of In­sys Ther­a­peu­tics Inc., man­u­fac­turer of a spray med­i­ca­tion.

Said Lough­ery, “We want to take a stand against this epi­demic and this scourge on our fam­i­lies.”

Such a stand — one be­ing taken on by nu­mer­ous en­ti­ties na­tion­wide — will be a big fight. But it’s nec­es­sary and could re­sult in pos­i­tive change like the suc­cess­ful bat­tles with to­bacco and as­bestos.

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