Buncombe commissioners join fight against opioid distributors

Buncombe County Commissioners have announced their plans to join the fight against opioid distributors. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Buncombe County Commissioners have announced their plans to join the fight against opioid distributors.

During a news conference on Tuesday, commissioners said they're filing a lawsuit against five of the largest manufacturers of prescription opioids and wholesale drug distributors.

County officials said they want the companies held accountable for putting too many prescription opioids into the community. They claim the companies intentionally mislead health care providers and patients about the dangers of opioids.

"Today, Buncombe County has filed a lawsuit against the drug manufacturers and wholesale distributors."

With that, commission chairman Brownie Newman laid out the county's strategy.

The county has hired outside counsel, a firm that's agreed to handle a case that'll likely cost millions. But expenses and fees will come only if there's a win.

"It's brought on people, not due to their fault, it's due to the push by the industry, and we want to expose it for what it is," Mike Fuller, of the McHugh Fuller Law Group, said.

"If you give somebody a 30-day prescription, they have a 35, almost 40 percent chance of still being on an opiate a year later," Dr. Blake Fagan, of the Mountain Area Health Education Center, said.

Officials ran down the frightening data -- more than 17 million painkillers prescribed in Buncombe County last year (that's 68 pills for every adult and child), eight opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every 10 residents and 70 percent of children in foster care are there because of parental addiction.

"We cannot afford, in Buncombe County or the country, any more to just to stand back and let this happen," commissioner Al Whitesides said.

"I embrace this fight, and it's going to be a fight. But more importantly, I embrace those citizens who are, have become, victims of this horrible, horrible, disease," commissioner Ellen Frost said.

County officials said the fight needs an additional component -- legal action.

"We bring a fourth prong to our efforts to respond. We've been responding with prevention, with efforts to expand treatment options and on the enforcement side of things. And this lawsuit is about the accountability prong of the strategy," commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said.