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Painful words: How a 1980 letter fueled the opioid epidemic

In this Aug. 5, 2010 file photo, a pharmacy tech poses for a picture with hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets, the generic version of Vicodin in Edmond, Okla.

BOISE — Several Idaho counties are suing drug makers and retailers, accusing them of being responsible for an opioid epidemic that has killed and harmed Idahoans.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 17 in federal court by Adams, Blaine, Boise, Bonneville, Caribou, Cassia, Elmore, Latah, Minidoka, Owyhee and Payette counties.

“In Idaho, prescription opioid-related overdose deaths increased from 45 to 77 between 2012 and 2016,” the lawsuit says. “In 2016, there were 119 opioid-related overdose deaths in Idaho (including non-prescription opioids).”

The counties’ lawsuit names drug companies such as Purdue, Janssen, Johnson & Johnson and Teva; as well as prescription drug retailers such as Walmart, Kroger, CVS and Rite Aid.

Among the allegations are that the companies knew the opioids they made and sold were dangerous, and that they weren’t only being used for medically necessary pain treatment.

That led to an opioid epidemic, which has grown to include a number of deaths from fentanyl as well as a rise in heroin use, the counties say. Not only does that affect residents, it has forced the counties to spend more money on emergency medical care, public safety and other demands, they said.

“The deceptive marketing, overprescribing, and oversupply of opioids also had a significant detrimental impact on children in Idaho,” the lawsuit says. “Young children have access to opioids, nearly all of which were prescribed or supplied to adults in their household, and children have themselves been injured or killed. Children of parents addicted to opiates, described as the ‘invisible victims of the epidemic’ are flooding the child protection system.”

The counties join a growing list of local and state governments who accuse the makers of Oxycontin, Lortab and other opioids of fraud, false advertising and racketeering, among other offenses. The lawsuits have been consolidated into a case that is before a federal court in Ohio.

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