Sam Craft became the fifth Louisiana sheriff to pharmaceutical companies to court over pain killers when he signed Vernon Parish up for what could be a long fight.
In an interview with the Leader, Craft said his department deals every day with the results of abusive use of opioids.
Vernon joins Rapides, Avoyelles, Lafayette and Jeff Davis Parishes as the first of what likely will be a substantial number of the state’s 64 parishes to take the companies to court.
Beauregard Sheriff Ricky Moses was out of pocket and could not be reached regarding whether he will sign on.
Some cities and the state could eventually join in, as they have in other states. As yet, there has been no indication from Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry of his intentions.
His office has undertaken other efforts against the rising opioid epidemic, including a legal settlement with Pfizer that provides law enforcement and fire departments with vials of Naloxone to help save lives threatened by overdose.
According to a joint study by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, Louisiana is one of eight states with more opioid prescriptions than residents and has the sixth-highest prescribing rate in the country.
Sheriff Craft said that at this point in time the Louisiana lawsuits are state district court actions, meaning they would be heard in each separate judicial district involved, in Vernon’s case the 30th Judicial District.
The litigation asserts many things, including that the companies market the drugs with the knowledge that they are “too addictive and too debilitating for long-term use for chronic non-cancer pain lasting three months or longer.”
The growing in the pharmaceutical litigation reminds observers of the stampede when the door opened against the tobacco industry two decades ago. That resulted in a $246 billion settlement which still annually yields revenue to governmental coffers.
The most-recent figures available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, put prescription overdose deaths at more than 22,000 a year and economic cost of overdose, abuse and dependence at almost $80 billion a year. Health care accounts for about a third of that.
Legal observers expect the industry to argue they cannot control what happens with pain pills once they move through the supply chain.
While it is considered a strong argument, they note, the sheer number of plaintiffs could, as it did with the tobacco industry, make concessions and settlement more economical choices than trial on merits.