The Gristle

Sharing the Pain

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

SHARING THE PAIN: With Whatcom County facing legal action for its glacial pace in developing a therapy protocol for jail inmates who suffer addiction issues from painkillers, the other housekeeping arrived last week as the county joined a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of those prescription drugs.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a class-action civil rights lawsuit against Whatcom County and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office for denying people with opioid use disorder (OUD) in the County Jail medications necessary to treat their addiction and ease their withdrawal. Sheriff Bill Elfo reported to Whatcom County Council that a medication-assisted treatment protocol for inmates had been under development at the jail for some time, but had not been fully initiated.

County Council, meanwhile, had been for some time considering their own initiative, joining the widening legal fight against makers and wholesalers of prescription opioids, claiming they have contributed to a public health crisis.

“There is a fairly strong record that certain pharmaceutical companies engaged in deceptive practices with doctors and patients about whether these products would be addictive, and aggressively over-encouraged physicians to overprescribe them,” Council member Todd Donovan explained.

In April, County Council voted unanimously to retain legal counsel to join Everett, Tacoma, and other communities around the state in lawsuits against the distributors of over-prescribed painkillers.

The Whatcom County Prosecutors office confirmed last week that legal documents had been filed in a federal lawsuit against Purdue, Endo, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt, and Janssen, the largest manufacturers of prescription opioids in the United States, as well as AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, the three primary wholesale distributors of prescription opioids in the country.

The lawsuit seeks damages from these companies for their role in creating the opioid crisis that has seriously impacted Whatcom County and communities nationwide, and alleges that they violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act and federal corrupt enterprise statutes (RICO).

Prescription opioids are a class of powerful pain relievers, including oxycodone and hydrocodone. The chemical make-up of these prescription drugs is nearly identical to heroin. Opioid-related overdoses are the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing fatal car accidents.  Since 2000, more than 300,000 people have died from fatal opioid overdoses.

The ultimate goal of this and similar actions from municipalities across the state is to bring these companies that have profited greatly from the manufacture and distribution of a heavily marketed addictive product into the constellation of financial solutions to address a public health epidemic.

“The goal for Whatcom County is to get some kind of judgment that requires these companies to help mitigate [these issues] and help us support programs to combat opioid addiction,” Donovan said.

In May 2007, Purdue Pharma, producer of oxycontin, pleaded guilty to misleading the public about the drug’s risk of addiction and agreed to pay $600 million in one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history. The City of Everett successfully initiated a lawsuit against Purdue based on increased costs for the city from the use of oxycontin.

Research indicates that 80 percent of those addicted to opioids and opiates of any form began their addiction with prescription painkillers. One study by Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness estimated the volume of prescription opioids in circulation in 2017 amounted to 52 pills for every American.

In Whatcom County, 30 percent of residents surveyed reported experiencing a situation where they or someone they know personally had medicines taken from them for use or abuse by someone else.

“In Whatcom County, the opioid crisis has become a public health emergency, and the costs to the county have been substantial,” Deputy Civil Prosecutor Karen Frakes noted in her narrative. “Between 2002-2004 and 2011-2013, the number of deaths attributed to opioids rose over 300 percent in Whatcom County. Moreover, according to the Health Department, the county had the second highest rate of treatment admissions for opioids in Washington State.

Of the 39 counties in the state, Whatcom County ranks third for overall negative impacts from heroin abuse and sixth for overall negative impacts from prescription opioids.

“The crisis has significantly strained county departments and services,” attorneys detailed in their complaint, “including through increased costs in the areas of public health, the county’s jail system, the county’s court and social service systems, and emergency medical services. Opioid addiction has caused a substantial increase in crime in Whatcom County, including property and retail crimes. The county also estimates that a large proportion of the county’s homeless population is addicted to heroin, which compounds the problem of homelessness and makes it more difficult for the county to address.”

Yet in light of the county’s ranking among other communities around the state in the incidence of opioid abuse, the complaints filed by the ACLU seem particularly damning.

Whatcom County’s policy and practice has been to to deny medically assisted treatment (MAT) for all inmates suffering addiction withdrawal, except for pregnant women, and only now—years into the epidemic—is beginning to slow walk the protocol to the wider jail population.

“The county’s Subutex protocol for pregnant women indicates that county understands that MAT is a safe, effective treatment for OUD,” the ACLU reasoned in their complaint. “It also indicates that the county has the means and resources, including trained staff and internal protocols, to provide Subutex to anyone with OUD.”

As the county prepares to clean house on the failings of the pharmaceutical industry, the county should also proceed to sweep their own front door.

Pick and Go Silver Reef
Past Columns
A Change in Climate

April 24, 2019

The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Edge City

April 3, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

New Directions

March 13, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Events
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Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

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Eurydice

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Unstable By Design

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Wild Things

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Spring Book Sale

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Chanticleer Authors Conference

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Valley Writers

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Linuxfest Northwest

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First Friday Art Walk

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North Cascades Community Orchestra

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The Coronation of Poppea

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Skagit Community Band

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Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

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Trove Web
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Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Robin Hood, a Musical

7:00pm|Sedro-Woolley High School

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Unstable By Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Linuxfest Northwest

3:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall, Anacortes-Westminster Presbyterian Church

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Dealer Demo Day

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Everson Garden Club Plant Sale

9:00am|Everson Elementary School

Have a Heart Family Fun Run

9:00am|Edgewater Park

Anacortes Vintage by the Sea

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NSEA Work Party

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Independent Bookstore Day

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Rise Against Hunger

9:00am| St. Luke's Community Health Education Center

Seedlings, Starts and Garden Goodies Swap and Giveaway

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Backyard Habitat Native Flora Fair

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

WoodFest

10:00am|Sedro-Woolley High School

Contemplative Brush and Japanese Washi Papers

10:00am|Blaine Harbor Center

Local Author/Illustrator Open House

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Dia de los niños/Dia de los libros

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We Are Skookum Scavenger Hunt

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Dakota Art Store Anniversary Art Expo

10:00am|Dakota Art Store

Vaisakhi Festival

11:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Tomato Growing Tips and Tricks

11:00am|Joe's Gardens

Getting Your Hand Dirty

11:00am|North Fork Library

The Greatest Sideshow in Sedro-Woolley

12:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Learn to Grow Fruit Trees

1:30pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Little Farm Homegrown

2:00pm|Everson Library

Garage Wine Company Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Sudden Valley Jazz Series

3:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Interwoven Lives

4:00pm|Village Books

FiberFest

4:00pm|Maple Hall

April Brews Day

6:30pm|Depot Market Square

Guemes Island gets lit

6:30pm

Contra Dance with Heliotrope

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Poetry Duo

7:00pm|Village Books

Swing Into Spring

7:00pm|Pioneer Pavilion Community Center

Bellingham Community Band's Appalachian Spring

7:00pm|Syre Center

Jennifer Scott, Rene Worst, and Bill Coon

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

Skagit Valley Chorale's American Journeys

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Artrageous

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Neil Berg Trove Web
Sunday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Linuxfest Northwest

3:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall, Anacortes-Westminster Presbyterian Church

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

WoodFest

10:00am|Sedro-Woolley High School

We Are Skookum Scavenger Hunt

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Contemplative Brush and Japanese Washi Papers

10:00am|Blaine Harbor Center

FiberFest

4:00pm|Maple Hall

Skagit Valley Chorale's American Journeys

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Brews Brunch

9:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Parkscriptions Day

9:30am|Throughout Whatcom County

Great Lego Build-Off

10:00am|Pioneer Pavilion Community Center

Dirty Dan Harris Festival

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Mitzvah Day Used Book Sale

10:30am|Congregation Beth Israel

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Easter Brunch at Semiahmoo Resort

11:00am|Semiahmoo Resort

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Coffee with Local Artists

12:30pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Books by the Bay Book Festival

1:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Allegro Strings Benefit

3:00pm|Greene's Corner

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

3:00pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|Church House

Sinful Sunday

8:30pm|Wild Buffalo

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