New Hanover County filed a federal lawsuit this week against more than a dozen drug manufacturers and distributors.
The complaint of public nuisance was filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday. Defendants in the lawsuit include distributors such as Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., as well as manufacturers such as Actavis Pharma Inc., Purdue Pharma Inc. and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
A response has not yet been filed.
The county joins several other actions by agencies across the state to sue targeted opioid companies.
The county was one of three local government agencies that passed resolutions recently to show their intent to take legal action against manufacturers and distributors. The city of Wilmington passed its resolution in early November, and Brunswick County followed up with a similar resolution in December.
The resolution passed by the Wilmington City Council authorized the city to pursue legal action, including hiring attorneys who are involved in other similar suits across the country.
The city has not yet filed a lawsuit, but Malissa Talbert, a city spokeswoman said Friday, "that is still under active consideration and review as opioid addition continues to be a very serious issue facing our community."
"We will continue to actively combat this problem from a legal and law enforcement perspective, as well as prevention," Talbert added.
New Hanover County's 162-page suit states that county is bringing the civil action to “eliminate the hazard to public health and safety caused by the opioid epidemic, to abate the nuisance caused thereby and to recoup monies spent because of defendants’ false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids."
Such economic damages were foreseeable by the manufacturers and distributors and were “intentional or unlawful actions or omissions," the county claims in the lawsuit, and added that the opioid epidemic is directly related to the increasingly widespread misuse of opioid medications.
In the county's claims about the state epidemic, the lawsuit states that unintentional fatal drug overdoses cost the state $1.3 billion in 2015. And the state's Department of Health and Humans Services estimates opioid-related drug deaths cost $2.1 billion in 2016.
"The opioid epidemic is particularly devastating in Plaintiff’s Community. In 2016, New Hanover County experienced 64 opiate related drug deaths representing a 1500% increase from opioid related deaths in 1999," the lawsuit stated. "In 2015, it was estimated that 114 opioid prescriptions were dispensed per 100 New Hanover County residents."
The county is seeking from the defendants compensation for past and future costs to abate the ongoing public nuisance caused by the opioid epidemic and an “abatement fund” for the purposes of abating the opioid nuisance, as well as other costs.
To view the full lawsuit filed by the county, click here