Wichita Co. latest to join federal opioid lawsuit


WICHITA FALLS, Tx (RNN Texoma) - Wichita County is finalizing a deal with the Altman Law Firm to represent the county in a lawsuit against big pharmaceutical companies and the opioid epidemic.

On Tuesday, county commissioners made the decision official. They decided to take part because they need to get a handle on the problem.

Statistics show that Wichita County is one of the top opioid using counties in the state. It's cost the county money, affected the tax rate, and led to lost lives.

"It does affect us here locally," Precinct 1 Commissioner, Mark Beauchamp said. "It affects each and every one of our pocketbooks. It affects our tax rate."

The opioid epidemic has spread throughout the country. It's why counties from every state are joining a federal lawsuit.

They're going after money lost, spent resources used to address the problem. They're going after pharmaceutical companies.

"They may have presented things that told the physicians this is not addictive, it's not a problem," Wichita County Judge, Woody Gossom said. "They've kind of softened on it and in the outcome, it appears it's very addictive."

According to the American Thoracic Society, opioid overdose cases in 162 U.S. intensive care units increased by 34 percent in 2015.

In 2009 the average cost of treating ICU overdose patients was $58,517 dollars. In 2015 it was over $92,000. What about Wichita County?

"Last years statistics show that there's more than one prescription of opioid medication written for every individual in Wichita County," Commissioner Beauchamp said. "That's just what was written in Wichita County itself. How many people that live in this county and go to Oklahoma City or Dallas to doctors and get additional prescriptions prescribed?"

County leaders said it's important to stay in front of this epidemic and that's their goal by joining the lawsuit.

"We're doing our best to do what we can do to control to work with," Judge Gossom said. "We've had good aggressive law enforcement and prosecution."

"To be one of the lead counties in the state to take a hold of this charge, it does feel good," Commissioner Beauchamp said. "It puts us in a good position."

The process is a slow one. Commissioner Beauchamp said it could take as long as five years, and that is if a settlement is reached.

Judge Gossom said they won't have day-to-day involvement in the lawsuit. He added that people need to be aware that while opioids can be very beneficial, they are even more addicting.

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