Fulton County Oct. 23 hosted a press conference to announce it is the first Georgia county to file suit against companies that make and distribute opioids, which have been responsible for the addiction and death of hundreds of its residents. Use of these drugs has resulted in the consumption of millions of dollars in public resources.

The press conference, held at the county’s government complex in downtown Atlanta, included Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Bob Ellis, District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr., Fulton County Health Services Director Kathleen Toomey, MD, Fulton County Chief Medical Examiner Jan Gorniak, MD, Fulton County Director of Behavioral Health Latrina Foster, Fulton County Police Maj. William Yates and other county officials.

In the complaint filed in the State Court of Fulton County, the county is suing more than 30 drug companies and individuals it claims continue to flood the market with addictive prescription drugs that have led to Fulton’s opioid epidemic, all in the name of profits. The defendants include some of the largest drug manufacturers in the U.S., such as Johnson & Johnson and McKesson.

“This case is about one thing: corporate greed. Defendants put their desire for profits above the health and well-being of Fulton County consumers at the cost of (the) plaintiff,” the complaint, which seeks damages and a jury trial, states.

At the press conference, Ellis said the epidemic is widespread throughout the country.

“In 2012, healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, enough to medicate every adult in America around the clock for a month,” he said. “Opioids, once a niche drug, are now the most-prescribed class of drugs. While Americans only represent 4.6 percent of the world’s population, they consume 80 percent of the opioids supplied around the world and 99 percent of global hydrocodone supply.”

In Georgia and in Fulton, Ellis said, opioid prescriptions “mirror those national numbers,” and the crisis has affected the county in numerous ways, putting a strain on the police, fire, health and other departments.

“(Addicts) have left our courts filled with an explosion of drug-related offenders, and our jails have become de facto mental-health and addiction-treatment facilities,” he said. “The cost to provide those services has exploded as a result. The impact is pushed down into our youth and children, and they have newfound challenges they are facing in our middle and high schools as a result.”

According to an Associated Press report, experts speaking at the University of Georgia College of Public Health’s annual State of the Public’s Health conference last week in Athens said the nation’s deepening opioid epidemic is hitting Georgia harder than most states.

Some of the highest opioid use is in the Rust Belt and the Southeast, authorities said.

Medicaid statistics show high opioid use in parts of southeast Georgia, northwest Georgia and several counties to the north and east of Athens, The Athens Banner-Herald reports.

From 2009 to 2014, Georgia’s rate of increase in the number of patient encounters related to opioids led the nation, said Michael Crooks of Alliant Quality, a healthcare consulting firm.

In related news, county commissioners recently approved additional doses of an anti-overdose drug.

At their Oct. 18 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to fund $49,000 for naloxone, matching their April 2016 allocation.

“Naloxone can reverse the harmful and often fatal effects of overdoses from heroin and other opioids,” county spokesman Darryl Carver said in a statement.

Ellis said law enforcement agencies and first responders will use the medication to save lives, after “countless stories” have proven its worth.

“We wanted to provide additional funding for naloxone to ensure our first responders are armed with the life-saving medicine, while the county works on education, prevention and treatment to fight the opioid epidemic,” he said in a statement.

The Associated Press and Neighbor News Editor Noreen Cochran contributed to this report.

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