Lawsuit against drug companies considered to fight opioid addiction in Shelby Co.

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - Shelby County commissioners estimate that opioid addiction is costing Shelby County millions of dollars. As a result, they want drug companies to pay up.

Commissioners are tossing around the idea of filing a lawsuit against painkiller manufacturers.

It's a move the state of Ohio made last week, accusing manufacturers of downplaying the risks associated with the drugs.

"We are researching bringing a lawsuit against big pharma to recoup the resources that we are losing in this county," said Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland.

Roland said taxpayers are footing the bill as more and more people become dependent on prescription opioid painkillers, some even overdosing.

"We feel the pharmaceutical industry has been pushing doctors to basically become pill pushers," said Commissioner Reginald Milton.

The two commissioners said it's too early to know what addiction is costing the county, but they estimate the figure is in the millions.

"We now have all these people finding themselves in these emergency rooms that we, the taxpayers, have to pay for," Milton said.

Numbers from the state of Tennessee show an upward trend in Shelby County. The total number of overdoses in 2015 grew since 2013, as did the number of those involving opioids. Figures from 2016 are not yet available.

"This [a lawsuit] is one way we can help protect our citizens against the use of opioids," Roland said. "It's to attack the people that are putting them out there."

In the Ohio case, at least one of the manufacturers said the allegations were legally unfounded. Another said it was trying to help find solutions to the opioid crisis.

Roland and Milton plan to bring up the lawsuit as a discussion item when Shelby County Commission committees reconvene in two weeks.

A lawsuit similar to Ohio's lawsuit was filed by Mississippi in 2015.

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