Arkansas cities and counties have joined in a state court lawsuit against opioid makers with the hope of winning damages to address the problem.
The lawsuit by 72 counties and 210 cities — representing about 90 percent of the population in the state — names 65 drug makers and individual defendants. It was filed in Crittenden Circuit Court.
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Said a news release:
“Though other lawsuits have been filed in federal courts across the country, Arkansas is the only state that has united in this fashion,” said Chris Villines, executive director of the Association of Arkansas Counties. “Instead of fighting and competing with each other on critically needed settlement dollars for our cities and counties, all of the cities and counties are working together to do what’s best for Arkansas.”
The epidemic is real and has ravaged Arkansas families for years. While the U.S. experiences more than 42,000 fatal overdoses a year, Arkansas experiences over 400, a number that has increased nearly 300 percent since 2000 and coincides with opioid sales quadrupling. Additionally, Arkansas ranks second in the nation for ages 12-17 in misuse of opioids (4.67%) behind Alabama, which is also the only other state with a higher opioid prescribing rate than Arkansas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is hard to find anyone who hasn’t felt the effects of an opioid addiction from family, friends or even in themselves,” said Kirk Lane, Arkansas State Drug Director. “Though great strides have been made recently to curb the epidemic – especially helping cities fund necessary resources like the opiate antagonist Naloxone (Narcan) – much more could be done to fund ongoing programs for education and prevention.”
In 2017, there were more opioid prescriptions than people – enough for every man, woman and child to have 80 pills per year. Hospitals and rehabilitation systems cannot keep pace with the influx of victims. The resources of public safety officials are constantly strained to meet the overwhelming needs of opioid-related emergencies. As a result, the state of Arkansas, its counties, cities and taxpayers have funded the enormous societal costs of the opioid epidemic, but have had insufficient revenue to turn the tide of the epidemic.
“Arkansas’s one-voice approach to this lawsuit is one that gives us a seat at the table,” said Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League. “Neither the state or any county or city is big enough alone; this litigation approach ensures that recovered damages remain in Arkansas.”