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Studies show many counties with high opioid death rates haven’t yet taken legal action

A recent study on opioid overdose death rates in North Carolina shows that some of the areas with the highest needs in the state are still considering whether or not to take legal action against the industry some say is responsible for an epidemic.

A comparison of a list published by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners with a report published by the North Carolina Medical Journal entitled “County Level Dynamics of Heroin Mortality in North Carolina” shows that many of the areas with the highest opioid mortality rates have not filed suit, retained counsel or declared the opioid epidemic a public nuisance.

The Medical Journal report shows that the number of opioid overdose deaths increased by nearly 800 percent between 1999 and 2016 throughout the state.

To better understand the figures, the study lumped every North Carolina County into a category based on the number of opioid overdose deaths they have averaged.

The study found that the four counties with the highest average mortality rates had about 18.2 unintentional overdose deaths per 100,000 people per year. On average, about 4.5 of those deaths came from heroin and 13.7 came from other opioids.

Yet, the County Commissioners’ report shows that only one of the four counties, New Hanover County, has filed a lawsuit. Brunswick and Gaston counties have both declared the opioid crisis a public nuisance and retained counsel, but have not taken further action. And Vance County has not taken legal action on the matter.

Comparing the two reports shows that only three out of 27 of the areas with the second highest mortality rates (averaging about 11 deaths per 100,000 people per year) have sued. Eight have taken other legal action and 16 have taken no legal action.

In total, 10 counties in North Carolina have filed lawsuits against opioid companies. They are: Buncombe County, Burke County, Caldwell County, Catawba County, New Hanover County, Onslow County, Rockingham County, Rutherford County, Surry County and Yadkin County.

Twenty-seven others have retained counsel or declared the epidemic a public nuisance.


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