Multnomah County is planning to sue the maker of OxyContin for costs incurred from dealing with the opioid epidemic.
County Commissioner Sharon Meieran told OPB's All Things Considered on Thursday that the county will be suing drug maker Purdue Pharma. (Listen to the full interview in the audio player at the top of the article.)
"We did not get to the place we are at due to the natural progression of things," said Meieran, a practicing emergency room doctor.
Multnomah County's Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to declare an ongoing public nuisance related to the supply and distribution of opioid pain pills in the county.
"This is the first step in holding those who caused the epidemic accountable," said Meieran, the sponsor of the resolution.
The vote and the public nuisance declaration, which passed unanimously, gives county lawyers the authority to bring about a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
"There was a really clear path by which large pharmaceutical companies — particularly Purdue Pharma — got us here," Meieran said. "We're saying with this legal step, it is time to take action."
Everett, Washington, filed a similar lawsuit against Purdue Pharma earlier this year, alleging the drug maker “supplied OxyContin to obviously suspicious physicians and pharmacies” that in turn fueled the black market for pills.
The Department of Health and Human Services found a nationwide trend of opioid abuse that costs taxpayers $55 billion annually. In 2015, Oregon ranked No. 4 in the country for non-medical opioid use.
At the county level, a study of opioid trends in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties conducted last year found that two-thirds of 159 fatal opioid overdoses across the three counties occurred in Multnomah County.
Paul Lewis with the Multnomah County Health Department said opioid misuse has many consequences for the county, especially county corrections facilities.
"Twelve thousand people a year are entering our corrections facilities with a substance abuse problem," said Lewis.
In 2015, retail pharmacies distributed over 1.4 million opioid prescriptions to residents across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, which together account for 1.7 million residents.