From The Trussville Tribune staff reports
BIRMINGHAM — Speaking from the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse, Sheriff Mike Hale announced that his office is in the process of filing a lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdu Pharma, joining Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall who, on Feb. 6, said that he would file a lawsuit against the company.
“As sheriff I see the devastating impact of this opioid crisis everyday,” Hale said. “Deputies respond to calls, opioid addicts are coming into our jails and families are ripped apart as they watch our loved ones succumb to addiction.
This growing crisis has forced my office to spend deputies’ time, jail resources and other tax payer dollars to address the fallout.”
Hale was with a “task force” made up of officials from the sheriff’s office, the Jefferson County Commission, the county’s attorney and others involved in the lawsuit.
“Behind me, we have our task force that’s going to once and for all put an end to this opioid crisis that’s plaguing our area,” said commission president Jimmie Stephens. “Together we can make a difference. The Jefferson County Commission and the Jefferson management staff is 100 percent these actions.
We will work together and coordinate our efforts through every legal means possible to stop this dreaded menace to our areas.”
During the press conference Hale said that he has directed the county attorney to begin filing the lawsuit, which he said will be joined by several other municipalities, including Hueytown, Pleasant Grove and Mountain Brook.
“This file is a part of our ongoing fight to put an end to this crisis and to put tax payer dollars back to where they should be.”
He cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relating to opioid use in Jefferson County, saying that fatal overdoses have doubled in Alabama have doubled over the last few years. He said that addiction to opioids usually begins with a prescription. But if opioids become medically unavailable they can be bought on the streets “in the form of fentanyl and heroin.”
Hale said that opioid-related deaths have increased more than 450 percent in the county over the last ten years. He also said that heroin-related deaths have increased by more than 700 percent over the past six years in the county and that fentanyl-related deaths have increased over 3,000 percent.
Hale said that his office is working with healthcare experts at UAB on helping prisoners with opioid addictions.
“The deaths are only part of the story,” he said. “These addictions lead to crimes that are being committed everyday. Everyday my deputies respond to calls related to opioids all over the county.”
County Attorney Theodore Lawson said that he believes the opioid-producing companies have known that their painkiller medications are addictive in a “long going conspiracy” and that they prescribe these medications for longer than normal, garnering more profits. Hale stressed that the lawsuit will bring financial relief to people.
“We want to put a stop to this and shift the financial burden where it belongs: with these companies that are profiting from it,” Hale said. “I don’t know how they sleep at night knowing their product is leading to death, destruction and heartache for so many families.”
Hale stated that more cities may join in the lawsuit. At a meeting of the Trussville City Council on Feb. 13, the city confirmed that it would be joining in the lawsuit along with other municipalities.
“It’s our way of saying that there is definitely a crisis here and that we’re addressing it the best way that we can to eliminate some of the problems,” he had said at that meeting.
The sheriff’s office has recently conducted several drug raids in the Birmingham Metro Area, including Center Point, Palmerdale and Huffman where heroin and fentanyl, along with weapons and cash were seized.
“I think it’s huge that these three cities – Hueytown, Pleasant Grove and Mountain Brook – had seen that this was important,” Hale told the Tribune after the press conference. “I think the other cities will look at the leadership of these cities and I really look for more to be a part of it.”