After years of New Orleans being one of the hotbeds of opiate addiction, Mayor Cantrell has had enough. On October 18, Mayor Cantrell’s office announced in a press release that they filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for their role in creating the opiate crisis. Opiates include legal painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone which are often prescribed or chronic for acute pain and are an $11 billion a year business for pharmaceutical companies.
Mayor Cantrell said, “The opioid epidemic has taken more from our people than even gun violence has. We are taking this step and pursuing litigation because our people have been harmed. We are going to do everything in our power to insist those who have profited from creating this crisis play a major role in addressing the costs to fix it. Addiction has had a terrible impact on the lives of our residents, and the wraparound services that are so desperately needed come at a cost.”
Over the last few years, opiates, especially Fentanyl, have become especially deadly. Last year, New Orleans suffered 219 drug-related accidental deaths; this is a four percent increase from the 211 killed in 2016, and a 138 percent increase from 2015, where 92 deaths were reported. Fentanyl was directly connected to 82 of those.
Fentanyl is the strongest of all synthetic opiates. According to Laguna Treatment hospital, “It is 100 times more potent than morphine.” According to the BBC, in August 2018, Fentanyl was used as a part of a cocktail of drugs in a lethal injection in Nebraska. It’s also known as the drug that killed celebrities Tom Petty and Prince.
Across the country, the opioid situation has been even worse than in New Orleans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2017, 72,000 people died of drug overdoses with Fentaynl being involved in 30,000 of those deaths. At least half of those killed in New Orleans were African Americans.
City Attorney Sunni LeBeouf, who is the lead in litigating this issue said, “This legal action is part of a multifaceted approach by our Mayor to fight the opioid crisis, with part of that approach being to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their actions in misleading medical professionals, patients and the public on the inherent risks associated with opioid drugs.”
Jennifer Avegno, Director of the New Orleans Department of Health explained how massive the crisis is: “Our EMS providers are called for overdoses every day. While they give life-saving opioid reversal medications at every opportunity, nearly 1,000 times since the beginning of this year alone, there are many more who cannot be revived, and still more who cannot get long-term help for their addiction.”
Opioid overdoses have become so prevalent that just trying to fight them, or even provide basic treatment, has become incredibly difficult. The massive increase in use has strained the healthcare system. According to Avegno, “The availability of drug treatment programs has simply been unable to keep pace with the growing need. Funding for long-term, comprehensive substance abuse treatment is scarce, and options for those who need it most are limited.”
New Orleans is not alone in this legal battle. Across the country, 27 states and dozens of cities have filed similar lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Michael David Rasso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.