Local governments suing opioid companies for creating and fueling an opioid epidemic in their communities, causing overdose deaths and economic damages, are not obligated to put any settlement money into recovery, Charleston Gazette-Mail journalist Eric Eyre told Inside Appalachia/public radio host Giles Snyder. Eyre’s writing on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.
The local governments are “arguing that this is a public nuisance issue. So conceivably, all these cities and towns and counties could take the money and use it for whatever they want,” Eyre said. “If they needed a new trash truck, if they needed to pave streets, if they needed to hire law enforcement officers, they could use the money any way they want it. So, the recovery community’s really upset about that … the money’s not going to go to fix the problems that were caused.”
It’s the same issue settlement cities and counties had with Big Tobacco, Eyre said. “A lot of that tobacco money, which was supposed to go to … prevention efforts and such, wound up being spent by cities for other things, which they considered more pressing, that really had nothing to do with the ill health effects of smoking.”
Eyre believes the biggest victims of the opioid epidemic are the babies who were born to mothers who used opioids while pregnant. These babies were born addicted to opioids, a condition known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), had to go through withdrawal, and will likely suffer long-term effects.
“Their lawyers are desperately trying to get their cases severed and heard separately from the cities and counties,” Eyre said. “But so far, the judge in Cleveland has rejected all efforts, and there have been multiple efforts to carve out the baby cases from the other litigation, but so far he’s rejected those efforts.”
Much of Eyre’s reporting focused on Kermit, West Virginia, a town of about 300 people where nearly 9 million opioids were dumped during the height of the opioid crisis.
“(W)e found out that wasn’t some … outlier, that there were many communities in Appalachia, in West Virginia, and other towns across the country that got a similar deluge of opioids,” Eyre reported.
Eyre’s soon-to-be-released book, Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic, follows a tenacious lawyer, an ex-con, and himself as they uncovered the massive pill dumping in Appalachia, “which of course sparked the greatest health crisis in American history.”
Lawyers in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section are representing local governments holding opioid companies accountable for overdose deaths and economic damages in their communities caused by the opioid crisis. Attorneys are also investigating cases of serious injuries and illness – including addiction and overdose – related to opioid use and abuse, as well as cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in babies born to mothers addicted to opioids. For more information, contact Melissa Prickett or Liz Eiland.