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CoastLine: Opioid Lawsuit Strategies Progress In Brunswick and New Hanover Counties

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 New Hanover County, following the trend of many other states and municipalities, filed a lawsuit last month against opioid manufacturers and distributors.  In the suit, the county alleges not just negligence by these huge drug companies; the county accuses  them of unfair and deceptive trade practices, civil conspiracy, fraud and racketeering.  Also in December, Brunswick County Commissioners passed a resolution indicating they might file their own suit in which they would seek damages from these companies for the public costs of the opioid epidemic.

The scope of this public health crisis, both nationally and locally, is nothing short of alarming.  Wilmington has landed at the top of one widely-publicized list by Castlight Health as the “number one city for opioid abuse.“ North Carolina, according to New Hanover County’s lawsuit, has an opioid prescription rate of 96.6 per 100 persons, ranking 13th in the country and a benzodiazepine prescription rate of 45.3 per 100, ranking 15th

Fatal drug overdoses in North Carolina cost the state $1.3 billion in 2015.

Also, according to the complaint, opioid abuse is responsible for a more than-thirty-five percent increase in the number of kids in foster care from 2010-2016. 

Given that impact, which public policies deserve to be funded and implemented?  To give us an idea of how the New Hanover County lawsuit is proceeding and where county officials are in their thinking about dealing with the opioid epidemic, we are joined by:

Pat Sykes, Brunswick County Commissioner, who also serves on the Boards of Trillium Health, Brunswick County Health & Human Services, and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, Health & Human Services Board

Woody White, Chairman, New Hanover County Board of Commissioners; serves as the County Representative on the  Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees and its Long-Range Planning Committee, the Legion Stadium Commission, the Cape Fear Museum Board, the Southeastern Economic Development Commission and Southeastern Partnership, and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Update:  Woody White resigned from the CFCC Board on Friday, January 12 in order to accept an appointment to the University of North Carolina Wilmington Board of Trustees.  He will be sworn in to that post on January 18, 2018.

Listener emails that did not get included in the live show:

"As a physician that previously worked in a pain management clinic, I would caution your critique of pain management physicians.  If a patient remains in severe pain, physicians have tried non-narcotic conservative measures, and narcotics allow a patient (like Leslie earlier on your show) to live a reasonable life on chronic narcotics, is it wrong for physician to prescribe narcotics long term?

I would also ask your panel, When does a victim/patient becomes responsible for their own voluntary actions like illegally taking narcotics?  Are smokers responsible for their behavior that negatively effects their health?  With today’s media blitz, are people really unaware that narcotics are dangerous?
Patients beg us to help them and narcotics when used responsibly remain the standard of care."
Tom Dalton, MD

"I'd recommend that people read the New Yorker article The Family That Built  an Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. It addresses the Sackler dynasty's ruthless marketing of painkillers that has generated billions of dollars--and millions of addicts.  It is breathtaking."
"I understand that Medicaid does not cover Physical Therapy, which would be the first step for dealing with a patient's pain prior to prescribing opoids.  Now the physicians are being regulated on how much they can prescribe, but unable to find a PT facility to care for their Medicaid patients, what can be done? What alternatives do Medicaid patients have?  Can you confirm or deny this?  If it's true, what changes are in store for the Medicaid coverage in store to cover PT?  Is this being looked into?  
I do not have first hand knowledge of this.  It's something I have heard from people who deal with the Medicaid population so prefer not to give my name."
"It is my understanding from speaking with doctors over the years, that med students are not trained in addiction awareness, risks, and consequences. 
Does this law suit address any of this?"

Narcotics Anonymous: 

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Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.