Tuscaloosa County considers joining opioid lawsuit

This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Alabama physicians prescribe more pain pills, per 100 residents, than any other state in the nation.

In three weeks, the Tuscaloosa County Commission will decide whether to join a class action lawsuit against three drug companies allegedly tied to the opioid epidemic.

More than 100 states, cities and counties are suing the nation’s three largest wholesale drug distributors , AmerisourceBergan, Cardinal Health and McKesson , for their alleged role in the opioid crisis.

Tuscaloosa County may be the next to file suit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama physicians wrote 5.8 million prescriptions for opioid pain pills in 2015. That’s more prescriptions than there are people in the state.

Taking highly-addictive pain pills often leads to heroin abuse, deaths from overdose, higher costs of healthcare and crime.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, opioid drugs include:

  • opium
  • codeine
  • fentanyl
  • heroin
  • hydrocodone
  • hydromorphone
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • oxycodone
  • oxymorphone
  • paregoric
  • sufentanil
  • tramadol

Tuscaloosa County Commission Chairman Hardy McCollum says commissioners will review a proposal by the Tuscaloosa-based Prince, Glover & Hayes law firm to join the lawsuit.

“It’s one thing when you’re dealing with heroin and cocaine, and the illegal (drugs) that come into the country,” McCollum said. “But it’s an entirely different thing when you’re using a prescriptive medication to feed habits that were quite often created out of the medical industry.”

The Tuscaloosa County Commission will vote on whether to join the lawsuit during a meeting on January 10, 2018. If the county becomes a plaintiff, legal fees would come out of a settlement with the drug companies.

The legal strategy is similar to lawsuits 41 states filed against tobacco companies in the 1990s.

Those states are continuing to collect more than $200 billion from Big Tobacco.

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