County continues discussions about suing drug companies

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Dec. 18, 2017 at 9:51 p.m.
Updated Dec. 19, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Victoria County Commissioners Court

Victoria County Commissioners Court   Advocate file image for The Victoria Advocate

Whether the county should sue drug companies for contributing to the opioid addiction crisis was a hot topic discussed by commissioners for the third week in a row.

Monday, commissioners heard a presentation from another Texas attorney with a group of law firms that are representing numerous Texas counties in legal battles against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The lawsuits accuse the companies of downplaying the risks of dangerously addictive painkillers, which they say have driven up counties' law enforcement and health care costs.

"It's a problem that we believe has to be stopped," said Boyd Smith, an attorney with Gallagher Law Firm in Houston.

Opioids are a type of drug that includes prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and the illegal drug heroin.

Nationwide, opioid-related deaths account for more than 60 percent of overdoses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, there were more than 33,000 opioid-related deaths in the U.S., 1,186 of which were in Texas.

Data is limited in Victoria County, but county health experts say opioid addiction is becoming an increasingly common problem. In the past six months, emergency medical providers have administered Narcan - a lifesaving drug to reverse opioid overdoses - at least 21 times in Victoria County.

During Monday's meeting, Smith told commissioners the rate at which doctors prescribe opioids in Victoria County has been higher than statewide averages in recent years. The attorney cited CDC data that showed there were almost 104 opioid prescriptions for every 100 Victoria residents in 2015.

One commissioner, however, was wary about suing the drug companies.

Commissioner Gary Burns questioned whether taking legal action against drug manufacturers would be like suing businesses that make guns or alcohol.

"What about alcohol?" said Burns. "Let's go after Seagram's and Budweiser and all that."

In response, Smith said the lawsuit against drug companies would be more similar to ones against tobacco companies, which accused the companies of misrepresenting how addictive and dangerous their products were.

"If the gun manufacturers were going out there and selling these guns and saying, 'They're not dangerous; you can't die from a gunshot,' ... then I could see some parallels," said Smith.

Commissioners are not planning to meet next week, so they plan to continue the discussion next year.


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