Multnomah Co. opioid ordinance paves way for lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies

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Multnomah County became the latest local government agency to pass an ordinance declaring the area’s ongoing opioid crisis to be designated as a public nuisance.

County leaders unanimously passed the resolution Thursday in an effort to pave the way for future lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies they say are fueling devastating addictions that tear apart families and burden taxpayers left paying for costly treatment and jail time.

The resolution is sponsored by Commissioner Sharon Meieran, a local emergency room doctor in her first term on the commission.

Meiran said the designation is modeled after similar resolutions recently passed by other counties in the U.S. that look to hold the pharmaceutical industry financially liable for the costly consequences of addiction.

Meieran, whose website touts a commitment to solving public health problems and addiction, told FOX 12 she sees the effects of opioid addictions firsthand.

“It really is at epidemic proportions and we see people who are addicted who overdose, who die from these medicines. At the community level, which is my vantage point now, we really see the impact,” Meieran said.

Recovering addicts, doctors and treatment specialists spent an hour testifying before commissioners Thursday, including a man who said an opioid prescription for an illness took him from being a science teacher to homeless and addicted to heroin.

“It continued to get worse, and by this time, I was in and out of jail – for possession, for DUIs, I tried to hold on jobs, couldn’t do so,” he said. “Life was completely upside down from where I had ever intended it to be.”

Ahead of the vote, the county released statistics on opioid-related prescriptions and emergency responses, finding that pharmacies dispensed 1.4 million opioid prescriptions in the tri-county area in 2015 – about one prescription per person living in the region.

Officials also reported that more than 860 people died in opioid-related deaths from 2009 to 2015, and in just two years, emergency responders gave more than 2,000 ambulance rides to overdosing patients – more than half of the cases involving transportation from public areas and businesses.

County leaders said they’re still working with attorneys to hammer out the details on what exactly a lawsuit would look like, who’d be named and what damages they’d seek.

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