Dane County is joining two thirds of Wisconsin counties in suing pharmaceutical companies — specifically, companies that make painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet.
They want to recoup the cost of treating drug addiction. Dane County is now saying fraudulent marketing of prescription painkillers caused the problem — and that the drug makers should pay.
Dane County says those costs include emergency medical services — which in just a year has seen a thirty percent spike in suspected overdoses.
Sarah Johnson is a health education specialist with the Dane County Department of Public Health. She says it’s hard to quantify the number of opioid overdoses each year, since many people don’t go to the hospital after an overdose.
But in 2016, she says there were more than 400 hospital visits due to opioid overdoses. That’s four a week on average. Eight-five people in Dane County died last year due to an opioid overdose.
“That’s 85 moms and dads and brothers and sisters and mother and daughters,” Johnson says. “Eighty-five people have been lost and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Besides that emotional toll, Johnson points to the toll on the county’s resources. At public health, their syringe exchange program has increased 2,000 percent over the past decade.
Another county expenditure is the ED2Recovery pilot program — a service that aims to connect overdose patients with help and mentorship even before they’re out of the hospital. The Dane County executive included 15,000 dollars for that program in his 2017 budget.
“This is a challenge that’s growing,” Parisi says. “And unfortunately opioid addiction is an incredibly challenging addiction to kick.”
A resolution directing the county’s lawyers to pursue the suit will go before the Dane County Board tomorrow night.