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Chatham County Takes the Lead in Opioid Battle

Post Date:05/29/2019 2:12 PM
Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Dasher announced that Chatham County will take a lead role in the fight to battle the opioid crisis through a class action suit. At its regular meeting on May 20, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to sue the manufacturers and distributors of opioids which have created such a problem in Chatham County and across the country.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners previously passed a resolution on Nov. 20, 2017 declaring the opioid crisis a public nuisance.

Chairman Dasher stated, “Rather than stand on the sidelines, we are seizing the opportunity to lead a class action fight against the opioid crisis as we combat the personal devastation we see right here in our community. Chatham County has already taken steps to combat this public health and safety crisis, which has impacted county budget expenditures in several areas.”

Dasher added, “We are being proactive in seeking appropriate reimbursement of past expenditures through legal channels from those responsible for the costs of this health and safety crisis. Most of all, we must secure additional funds to abate the nuisance going forward. We are leading the way in this class action lawsuit, which we hope other local governments will join.”

Chatham County has retained several North Carolina law firms to assist in this effort, but the county will not have to provide taxpayer funds for these services, Dasher noted.

As evidence of county impact, attorney Ben Atwater in Siler City, who is representing the county, pointed out, “More than 76% of children in foster care in Chatham County are in social services custody due to parental substance abuse, according to a 2018 special report from NC Child, The Child Welfare Impact of the Opioid Epidemic.” The report uses data from the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

Atwater added, “The situation is equally troubling for newborns. For every 1,000 live births in Chatham between 2012 and 2016, six suffered from drug withdrawal syndrome requiring hospitalization. These children frequently suffer from long-lasting developmental disabilities, which makes it crystal clear why we need to attack opioid addiction.”

Garry Whitaker, a Winston-Salem attorney also representing Chatham County, said, “North Carolina maintains data showing that from 2011 to 2016 at least 16 million opioid pills were dispensed in Chatham County. With an average population of 65,000 during that period, this represents 246 opioid pills for every man, woman and child in the county.”

From 2008 to 2017, Whitaker noted that Chatham suffered 27 unintentional opioid poisoning deaths, based on existing data. “One death is too many, but 27 is unacceptable. It’s no wonder the State Health Director issued a standing order effective October 2017 allowing six pharmacies in Chatham County to dispense without a prescription the drug naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.”

Whitaker said, “We appreciate the opportunity to assist the county in its vigorous pursuit of this matter.”

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