Guilford County will sue opioid manufacturers and distributors over drug crisis

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Guilford County Board of Commissioners on Friday announced plans to file a lawsuit against many of the major opiate manufacturers and distributors.

"There are three distributors in the country that handle over 85 percent of the opioid market and those three distributors have annual profits of over $400 billion," Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said. "So these are companies that have those resources, and have got those resources in ways that frankly they shouldn't have, and so we think it's fair for us to try and make them part of the solution as well."

The lawsuit comes in response to what the county called "the rampant drug crisis plaguing Guilford County."

"In the nation, the leading cause of death for people under age 50 is now opioid overdoses and opioid related deaths," Payne said. "That's more than heart attacks, that's more than car wrecks. That to me is a staggering figure."

The lawsuit asserts that the manufacturers and distributors have unlawfully contributed to a public nuisance in Guilford County.

Guilford County EMS reports that in 2017, there were over 700 opioid overdose reversals and 80 verified opioid/heroin overdose deaths.

“This is an important step in addressing a serious problem in Guilford County. We have lots of dedicated people in the field addressing this issue every day. I feel it is important to try to get some resources to help address this problem from some of the corporations that contributed to it in the first place.” Board Chair Alan Branson said in a news release.

Guilford County has hired the McHugh Fuller Law group to take on this litigation along with the Guilford County Legal Department. Payne believes the lawsuit will be filed within the next month and is hopeful it will move along quickly with the help of a specialized coalition of law firms helping the county.

The cost of the suit will be fronted by those private firms, according to Payne, and will not impact the taxpayers. If there is a settlement, or any payments towards the county, those law firms will receive a percentage for their work.