The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted last week to join over 200 governments nationwide in suing opioid manufacturing and distribution companies.
In the board meeting last week, an attorney from the McHugh Fuller Law Group, who is representing Orange County, gave a presentation to the commissioners on the state of the opioid crisis in North Carolina.
The lawsuit will primarily target three of the nation’s largest opioid distributors — Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson Corp. — to determine if the companies have been negligent in reporting suspicious orders and activities to the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the law group, drug manufacturers and distributors are required to report suspicious activity by the Controlled Substances Act.
Although opioid related deaths and overdoses in Orange County are lower than the national average, Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich said the crisis is still greatly impacting the county.
“It is a problem, it’s a growing problem, and the whole idea (with the lawsuit) is to try and get this under control,” Rich said. “(The opioid distributors) are putting a burden on our counties, on our health department, on our social services, on our sheriff's department, and it's costly.”
The Orange County Health Department identified that opioid overdose deaths were concentrated in Hillsborough. Between 2009 and 2013, 26 percent of Orange County’s opioid-related deaths came from Hillsborough, even though the town only makes up five percent of the county’s population.
To address the opioid crisis, Orange County paramedics as well as law enforcement have been trained to carry and administer Naloxone, an overdose reversal medication. The county health department also launched the safer syringe initiative in 2016, which provides free Naloxone to Orange County residents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed North Carolina as one of 26 states to report a statistically significant drug overdose death rate increase from 2015 to 2016, with a 24.7 percent increase. The CDC also reported that opioids were involved in over 40,000 deaths nationwide in 2016 and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.
The North Carolina Injury and Violence Prevention Branch reported that an average of five people per day died as a result of drug overdose in North Carolina in 2016, noting that opioids contributed to a majority of these deaths.