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Use opioid legal awards for help, drug prevention

Drug settlements reached earlier this summer between Trumbull County and retail pharmacies that distributed highly addictive opioid drugs to local residents is just one step in solving the ongoing drug crisis.

After legal fees, Trumbull County will receive $1,123,984 from the Rite Aid litigation and $1,125,000 from Giant Eagle as part of the $2.2 million settlement reached in June. The money comes from settlements claiming Rite Aid and Giant Eagle contributed to the opioid epidemic by failing to implement measures to prevent the distribution and dispersing of opioid prescriptions, which contributed to a public health crisis in Trumbull County.

Jurors in the civil case filed by Lake and Trumbull counties also had voted unanimously to hold Walmart, CVS and Walgreens responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic, leading to more awards.

The health crisis is not unique to our region.

In fact, the opioid epidemic has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades, counting those from prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and generic oxycodone as well as illicit drugs such as heroin and illegally produced fentanyl.

Now those deaths have set in action more than 3,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and other entities in state and federal courts over the toll of opioids.

Just this week, a federal judge ruled in favor of San Francisco in that city’s lawsuit against Walgreens. San Francisco in 2018 had sued Walgreens and drug manufacturers and distributors over that city’s worsening opioid epidemic, saying they created a “public nuisance” by flooding the city with prescription opioids. All the other defendants previously settled with the city for a total of $114 million, including $54 million that opioid makers Allergan and Teva agreed to pay on the eve of closing arguments in the trial, leaving Walgreens as the sole defendant.

The growing recent legal scrutiny and media attention have placed the crisis in the spotlight, increasing focus on the companies that manufacture the drugs, the doctors who prescribe them, pharmacies that distribute them and, of course, the people who use the drugs, both legally and illegally.

While the crisis undeniably has taken a horrible toll, the growing focus has served to educate the public about its need to ask questions and do homework before blindly following recommendations offered by doctors and drug companies.

Remember, it is always OK to question medical providers and pharmacies about the need and long-term effects of drugs being prescribed for you.

Now, the county officials will look to distribute the funds awarded from the lawsuits. The settlement and awards must be allocated according to guidelines spelled out in terms of the settlement. Most importantly, these dollars must not be used to extend local government’s general fund or routine spending.

Rather, these funds must be appropriated judiciously in attempts to help those addicted and their families to pick up the pieces of their lives damaged by this scourge, and perhaps more importantly, to develop a proactive approach to drug abuse prevention rather than just reaction.

Trumbull County commissioners in past months voted unanimously to create a nine-person board that will make recommendations on spending the county’s multi-million dollar awards.

Good. We remind those involved to ensure those discussions are held and plans are laid out with the utmost transparency.

At the time, commissioners also vowed to ensure the funds would be used to help drug rehabilitation programs and the clients in them. They vowed to ensure the funds go back to the community members who need help.

We urge the allocation of these funds be used to help those who have suffered addiction brought on by these opioid prescription drugs to get clean.

That was the key to these legal battles, and now the funds must go where they are needed most in helping our community to recover.

editorial@vindy.com

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