H'burg joins opioid action



Hattiesburg became the first city in the state Tuesday to join a national lawsuit aimed at recovering damages against the drug manufacturers and wholesale distributors “responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic.”

The City Council unanimously voted during its Tuesday meeting to contract with attorneys in the lawsuit, although no taxpayer funds will be used to pay the attorneys. A percentage of the funds that come out of the lawsuit will go to the attorneys’ fees.

Mayor Toby Barker said the battle against opioid addiction is a major concern.

“I think it’s going to be one of the most important fights in our generation,” he said after the City Council meeting. “When you see just the rapid escalation of how big of a problem this is, when you see how close it hits to home, when you see how it threatens the public safety of our community and will continue to do this until something is done to curb this, it is critically important public issue right now.”

The lawsuit is aimed at the companies that control 85 percent of the market for prescription opioids and profited from the widespread use of the opioids.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least two opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every person – no matter what age – in Forrest County in 2016. The Forrest County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to also file suit against these same companies because of the opioid epidemic in its January meeting.

Opioid abuse has become the leading cause of death for people younger than 50 and the total economic burden of the opioid epidemic is estimated at $78.5 billion.

Barker said the opioid epidemic has touched many people.

“I think all of us know someone individually who has been impacted or has a family member who has been impacted by the opioid epidemic,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are trying to secure every resource available, first of all, for the education of all ages on what these drugs can do and how addictive they are; secondly, help our law enforcement as they seek to combat this at a street level and, finally, for long-term treatment options.

“We have a gap in treatment options right now in a lot of recovery programs. As people are trying to get sober and stay in recovery. That process takes more than 30 days. To have treatment options out there, there are damages where they can go to provide those resources in our community.”