Breaking News
More () »

Fulton suing opioid companies over drug abuse epidemic

They are the first county in Georgia to to sue opioid making companies.

They are household names like hydrocodone, methadone and oxycodone and are accounting for a quadruple in deaths since 1997.

The data is out there – and it’s not pretty, 91 people die every day from opioids. Opioids' stronghold on two million Americans seems to be getting stronger. Abuse claims continue to skyrocket, along with the death tolls. That’s all according to the CDC.

Fulton County has had its fair share of frustrations over the drugs and now plans to tackle it head-on. Now, the county is planning to sue the pharmaceutical companies behind the drugs claiming they are complicit in a rising epidemic - the first county to do so.

President Donald Trump commented on the national epidemic in August saying, "We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis."

In October, he took that comment a step further saying he would declare a national emergency.

Locally, Fulton County is making their move with the lawsuit as the abuse crisis reaches a fever-pitch. 11Alive investigators have been bringing stories about how opioids are impacting the lives of people in Georgia. In 2016, the Atticus investigation team identified an area now called The Triangle where a high number of opioid-related deaths are concentrated. Now, that triangle has expanded.

Statistics from 2015 showed that 60 percent of all overdose deaths were from opiates and that 199 accidental deaths in the county involved their use.

Those are alarming numbers only made more concerning when combined with the fact that hospitalizations related to opioid use and dependence in Georgia skyrocketed from 302 in 2002 to over half a million (520,000) in 2012.

A statewide task force was formed in September to fight what Georgia leaders called an epidemic. In the past 6 years, the number of heroin-related deaths has gone up by 3,844 percent in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett counties alone.

These dangerous drugs have also become the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RELATED | The triangle

In September, the Atticus team showed how one pill can lead to heroin addiction. In fact, that pill can be found in anyone's medicine cabinet.

Statistics show nationwide that every 3 months the number of people dying equals the number of lives lost during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But voices online are arguing that users who abuse the pills are in the wrong and it's about personal responsibility to prevent deaths, not on pharmaceutical companies.

11Alive's Ryan Kruger spoke to one former addict who was in the same position of abusing opiates, but was able to turn her life around to help others with addiction.

Lindsey Sizemore, now a counselor, said her addiction to opioids came on fast and strong. Within months, she said she found corrupt doctors to write phony prescriptions.

"The pharmaceutical companies have spent many years pushing these pills far and wide," Sizemore said. "they have misrepresented the fact that these are very addictive. They have withheld harmful information."

Sizemore argues that if pharmaceutical companies are held partially responsible for the current situation, "Why not have then play a helping role in getting people the treatment that they need?"

Despite the large numbers, Fulton County says the lawsuit is one small step to tackle this critical issue.

Before You Leave, Check This Out