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Several Missouri counties suing pharmaceutical companies for opioid epidemic

ARNOLD, Mo. - The fight against the long-standing opioid crisis in Missouri continues.

Jefferson County is one of 11 counties in the state that is suing several pharmaceutical companies for the widespread epidemic.

“They marketed that the drug was effective for chronic pain, that it was safe, that it was not addictive, and that there were no withdrawal symptoms with the drug,” said attorney Jack Garvey, of Carey, Danis & Lowe. “All of these things they marketed we now know are wrong.”

The lawsuit names more than 30 companies including Johnson & Johnson, Perdue Pharmaceuticals, and Express-Scripts, and is attempting to recoup the costs of past expenses and future costs related to battling the epidemic. That includes law enforcement, healthcare, children in foster care because of parents being incarcerated, and treatments while in jail.

“They have created what we call a diversionary market,” Garvey said. "They have created a black market for opioids and it’s because these companies failed to monitor and control their opioids.”

The pain and agony of dealing with not just one but two children addicted to heroin is a nightmare that Beth Hudson of Crystal City said she doesn’t wish upon any parent.

“They were both using at the same time and, you know, you just always anticipate a phone call of what’s going to happen,” Hudson said.

Her son and daughter’s addiction began with prescription painkillers. Bryar Langley, 26, had several dental problems and was prescribed Percocet when he was 18.

“Then that didn’t cut it and then it was heroin,” Langley said. "Then I would use meth to come up from the heroin, just so that I could get down on heroin again.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Missouri is ranked 19th in the country for opioid death overdoses.

Between 2013-2017, the county had more than 1,900 emergency room visits due to opioid misuse.

“It’s gotten progressively worst in the last five years,” said Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller. “I think we have had over 300 deaths in that five-year period just to opioids.”

Hudson said that the lawsuit could just be the cure for a crisis that has and continues to take more lives.

“Why should they care? They should care because their kids will be next,” Hudson said. "Their grandkids will be next and then what? What are you going to say? ‘I did that?’"

Fox 2/KPLR 11 contacted Express-Scripts for a comment about the lawsuit. The company responded with the following statement via email:

“Express Scripts leads the industry with solutions to reduce abuse of opioids. We intend to vigorously defend these allegations.

"For more details on how we are helping ensure appropriate management of opioids, please click here.

"In 2017, Express Scripts was the first in the industry to create such a solution that reaches these three critical touchpoints. With our guidelines-based Advanced Opioid Management program, we are leveraging patient education, at-home safe disposal, and limits on the type and quantity of medication for first-time patients. Through this comprehensive approach, we have championed a better path toward safe opioid use, reducing the average days’ supply per claim for first-time patients by 55%, and keeping opioid prescriptions to 7 days or less for 93% of first-time patients.

"We’re also re-directing 78% of new patients, who initially receive a prescription for a long-acting opioid, to short-acting opioids, which guidelines suggest are safer for patients who are new to therapy.”