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Opioid Lawsuits Reach White Pine County

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It's not uncommon knowledge that prescription opioids have become a significant problem in the United States. Statistically, one or three people know someone struggling with opioid addiction or lost their life due to overdose. However, it's not just deaths that impact us either. Those who are still with us but struggle with the addictive nature of opioids often seem to be different people than the ones we knew before they got hooked. This can take many forms, such as a physical injury with enough time to heal. However, the patient claims that they still need to be prescribed medication to sleep, relax, function, etc. This level of addiction comes with mood swings, changes in mental function, and withdrawal symptoms if the doctor a patient visits won't prescribe anymore. This is a burden that many Americans are now unfortunately familiar with.

The opioid epidemic, as it is often referred to, is a complex problem to solve, however. Around 1999 and half a decade before that, the U.S. saw a rise in opioid prescriptions in the united states and, with it, a surge in opioid-related hospitalizations, additions, problems, and overdoses from both medications and opioid-based street drugs.

Socially the stigma against now recreational marijuana was still widespread despite the medical potential found in the cannabis plant. At the same time, it was perfectly acceptable for a pill bottle in the medicine cabinet to be abused for a little feel-good.

We now know that from 1999 to 2020, there were at least 500,000 opioid overdoses that resulted in death. According to the CDC, in 2017 alone, there were 47,600 opioid overdoses deaths.

While awareness of the issue with opioid prescription medication abuse has become a well-publicized issue, we are still a long way from healing our society and our family members from the damage abuse has caused.

There are several reasons as to why the problem will still take time to solve and why there is still resistance to finding alternative solutions to opioids in the first place.

The medical industry is not simple. There are many moving parts, with each of those parts heavily tied to complex legal structure and bureaucracy. This system provides accountability checks for healthcare providers for patient assurance and liability protection against those who would abuse the system. Approvals and regulations from the FDA that health care providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies must follow along with payment settlements for health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. To top off this messy network, the U.S. healthcare industry alone in 2019 was worth $3.9 Trillion; that's a lot of money changing hands, and when there is this much money moving around; not all involved are looked out for the people's interest they claim to be helping.

It's still possible to find videos from the '90s of doctors and pharmaceutical companies touting the health benefits of opioids while also making outlandish statements that we know are not true, such as downplaying the addictive nature of the prescription opioid medication. So big Pharma would be an excellent start to see who is making a financial killing off of opioids if it's not apparent.

Secondary to prescription medication manufacturers, another problem lies with healthcare providers prescribing opioid medication. Many medical professionals succumb to the pressure of their opioid-addicted patients, filling more prescriptions. Again, a problem here can be seen as there is a monetary exchange between the prescription manufacturers and health care providers, rather than finding an alternative solution to high-strength pain medication. Physical therapies, holistic medicine, and other techniques for solving issues that cause pain rather than treating the symptoms with drugs unnecessarily are significant steps in the right direction for getting our nation unhooked from opioids.

With this shift to more accountability in the healthcare industry regarding opioids, we have seen a gradual increase in advocacy groups, law firms specializing in malpractice related to opioids, and even state filings to slow the number of causalities associated with this epidemic. However, as with most advocacy groups, while intentions may be good, if action is not well planned and a holistic view of the problem is not understood, sometimes the wrong people end up holding the bag at the end of the day.

A good example is Ely's own historic Economy Drug pharmacy. White Pine County has recently sued them for distributing opioids in an excessive amount. However, an interview with Economy Drugs' Pharmastist Adam Bath tells an intriguing story about the truth behind how attempts to solve this opioid crisis dont always hit the mark.

The state of Nevada has agreed to a proposed nationwide settlement worth up to $26 billion that will resolve lawsuits against three major drug distributors (McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp., and Cardinal Health Inc.) and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (J&J) related to their involvement in the U.S. opioid crisis. Nevada was previously among the small number of holdout states, refusing to join the deal when it was initially announced, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Those who had accepted the settlement terms agreed to extend the deadline for others to join to January 26. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said he was "optimistic" the state's local governments would join, allowing Nevada to receive more than $285 million.

This nationwide lawsuit settlement came to Ely's doorstep due to system misinterpretation. The Economy Drug pharmacy has shifted ownership over the years. This might not seem important at first glance but is essential in understanding why the state and White Pine County brought their lawsuit against Economic Drug.

"There is a system in place to ensure that drugs are accounted for, what kind the volume is recorded, and submitted for record-keeping. These numbers are broken down into ten years and smaller chunks to aggregate statistical information related to drug distribution. How much of what is going where essentially." According to Bath. "When I took over, several pharmacies were reported under my name. Then, when compiled, it looked like a ridiculous amount of opioids were distributed under my care. I have brought lawyers in who assure me that I have a case regarding my defense in this settlement. I have also spoken to White Pine County officials who were unaware of the nature of this nationwide settlement case and how it would affect small distributors such as ourselves and would not have agreed to bring it to our doorstep if they had known it would take such sweeping action."

My conversation with Adam also led me to ask questions about his perspective on the nature of lawsuits like this and if he thought they would be effective in fighting opioid addiction. "I'm personally not a fan of opioids. In fact, I have pushed the pharmaceutical board before to allow pharmacies to have more say in controlling the medication that we hand out and fortunately gained more say over the number of opioids that we distribute. This has actually significantly lowered the number of opioids that we distribute here in White Pine County specifically."

Adam continues, "What is really a shame is that we are not the only small pharmacy that has come under scrutiny like this; it's happening nationwide. The problem is that small pharmacies like us get sued, yet the big brand pharmacies, Walgreens, CVS, etc., are not touched by any of this. On top of this, we are a pharmacy. We dont just hand out drugs to whoever wants to buy them. Healthcare providers are the ones who prescribe the medication that patients are then allowed to come to pick up. So why are these doctors who prescribe this opioid medication not the ones being sued? It doesn't make much sense."

As we see here in our own local example, despite efforts, the efficacy of initiatives like this nationwide lawsuit is trying to slow this pandemic, and awareness alone has helped significantly in slowing deaths and addiction. However, questions like the ones Andam bath asks, why are those truly and clearly accountable for our opioid problems not brought to question, is a complex answer to find. Big Pharma makes it difficult for even large anti-opioid movements to hold them liable. Perhaps it's a bit of blame-shifting. More likely, it's a mixture of both the complexity and the problem and corruption and greed trickling through in its own way.

As for the outcome of the Economy Drugs class-action suit and the story's development, we will continue to report as we know more.

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