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The Journal Gazette

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Fort Wayne Police Capt. Kevin Hunter says the raman spectrometry the Thermo Scientific TruNarc drug test machine utilizes is cutting-edge technoogy for helping police officers quickly identify substances in the battle against illegal drugs. When a substance is seized, officers can scan it with the machine and match the waveform readout against known substance waveforms in their library, which is updated frequently when new substances are identified.

Thursday, December 21, 2017 1:00 am


Following suit

Hoosiers' voices deserve to be heard on opioids

Scott County, Indiana, became the face of the opioid crisis when an HIV outbreak drew national media attention in early 2015. The cost of the epidemic – in both lives and public expense – came sharply into focus.

As the toll continues to rise, Indiana should join other states and local government units – including Scott County – in filing lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic. The $246 billion settlement that came out of a similar suit against tobacco companies in the 1990s could be the result in this case, with much-needed funds to pay for treatment and costs that are now falling to taxpayers at large. Indiana has collected nearly $2.4 billion from the tobacco settlement since 1998.

The Allen County commissioners and Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry made the right decision in signing on to opioid lawsuits.

“You've got the people the distributors, the manufacturers sort of duped into believing these are nonaddictive things and once they become addicted, they find out it's really not a healthy environment and, consequently, they end up with things from HIV to drug abuse,” Commissioner Nelson Peters said.

Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department supports the city's lawsuit. Asked what any awards from the suit should be spent on locally, Hunter said, “We really need more treatment facilities and detox facilities and sober-living facilities here to address this crisis.

“Certainly, there would be some money that would repay the damage that's already been done, meaning all the overtime and other expenses that have been involved with this. But also creating remedies to solve this and help people that are already addicted.

“I really don't think we've seen the worst of it yet. ... Last year, we had 804 drug-poisoning cases. Those were people who overdosed who didn't die. There were 68 people who died last year from drug poisonings.

“This year, we're at 94 deaths, there are 50-plus pending toxicology reports, and we're at 1,130 non-fatal poisoning cases. And that's till the end of November.

“The numbers just keep going up.”

The office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in May filed a lawsuit against five pharmaceutical manufacturers, alleging they promoted the use of opioids for pain treatment and created a drug epidemic. “We have to have a sense of urgency about this,” DeWine said in October. “We have to have a sense that this is a crisis in the state of Ohio. We have to target the people who created it.”

Ohio's lawsuit names Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical, Johnson and Johnson, and Allergan. Allen County's suit targets 11 companies, although more might be added.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill announced in June he was working with a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general to evaluate whether manufacturers engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and sale of opioids. But his office this week wouldn't confirm or deny the state will be a plaintiff.

“As a matter of policy, we would not comment on any open investigations and we would not provide information on potential litigation decisions,” wrote Bill McCleery, deputy director of communications for the attorney general's office.

Indiana should sign on to a suit. Like Ohio, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Hampshire and other states, the damage here will be felt for decades to come. If a settlement is forthcoming or if the courts decide pharmaceutical companies are to blame, Hoosiers statewide should be in line for a share.