Pharmaceutical lawsuits may encourage clearer path toward solutions in opiate fight

By Nicole Hennessy

Avon/Avon Lake/Sheffield/Sheffield Village – Pharmaceutical companies promoted opiate-based pain medications to doctors and patients as non-addictive options to treat acute pain. The federal government simultaneously began incentivizing and judging medical professionals on their ability to treat pain.

This is the basic scenario that led to the current opioid/heroin crisis. The state of Ohio and several individual cities, including Lorain, are now suing pharmaceutical

(L-R) John Stuckey with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine at a recent opiate conference. DeWine recently filed a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies on behalf of the state. (Photo, John Stuckey)

companies. Additional states and cities across the country are following suit, using the nationwide lawsuit against tobacco companies as precedent.

Reactions among local stakeholders has been mixed.

Ohio is the most hard-hit state in the country. An average of 11 people die from an overdose every day. The 4,149 deaths in 2016 was up from the record 3,050 deaths in 2o15. These numbers provide a small window into the hundreds of thousands of lives that are currently consumed with addiction.

Lorain County saw its own record of 131 deaths in 2016, and Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans says the county is on track to exceed 200 deaths this year – “20 times our normal overdose deaths in a year,” he explained.

While he acknowledges the culpability of drug makers, Evans is skeptical of the lawsuits. He says this is just more money being funneled away from the solution: improved access to treatment.

“We put billions of dollars into the criminal system, we’re putting very little drops into the bucket into the rehab system,” he said, noting that sensible education on drug prevention is also where focus should be.

“People are just trying to make money off of the tragedy that’s happening.”

Dan and Jan Stuckey, whose four kids graduated from Avon Lake High School, helped pull their son, John Stuckey, out of his opioid addiction.

The family now runs ARCHway Institute for Addictive Disease and Co-Existing Mental Health Disorders, which works throughout Ohio and seven other states to help get alcoholics and addicts into treatment.

John, who now lives in St. Louis, runs six men’s sober living houses, works as a peer therapist at a recovery center and a consultant to help start up sober living houses  in other states. He is also president of ARCHway.

As the pharmaceutical suits are moving forward, the Stuckeys, and other local families touched by addiction, have a collective sense of “It’s about time.”

Though, there is also the acknowledgement that, like Evans pointed out, for companies that make billions off of just one drug, this is simply just a cost of doing business.

First responders that are constantly getting overdose calls and recovery advocates know that criminalization of addicts is not the way out. Feeding a for-profit prison industry  and a lack of focus on mental health  is another aspect of this epidemic John says the public needs to become honest about.

As she learned about this issue, Jan said, “It seemed to always go back to ‘follow the money.'”

That’s why advocates are constantly working to find a way to make treatment and prevention attractive to investors and legislators.

As it is designed now, John said, “The system is set up for us to fail.”

Public opinion on addicts can be harsh and acceptance of addiction as a disease has a long way to go. John says this is improving, but for the negative reason that so many lives have been touched by opiates.

Evans says judging addicts or looking the other way is wrong. The people getting addicted, he said, are young kids or people who did what their doctor or their dentist told them to do.

“So who are we judging? We’re judging young kids who did something stupid. Well, we were all young kids and we all did something stupid,” said Evans.

“Or we’re judging people who did what their doctor or their dentist told them. Well, hopefully we all do what our doctor tells us, too. So, come on, who are you judging? You’re judging everybody, because we all fall into those categories.”





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