Naloxone is a potentially lifesaving medication that blocks opioid receptors and reverses the effects of an overdose. Credit: Courtesy / Jeff Anderson via Flickr

Bexar County on Thursday filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors that it says are responsible for the “tremendous expense” and devastating local impact endured as a result of the addiction epidemic.

“As of today we know that in San Antonio 100 residents have died annually from overdosing on opioids,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at a press conference at the County courthouse.

Filed in state district court, the lawsuit follows commissioners’ resolution in October to pursue litigation against more than 50 companies, including Johnson and Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical, and Purdue Pharma, the maker of the synthetic opioid OxyContin.

“These manufacturers and distributors did not only put opioids into the market,” Martin Phipps, a lawyer with Phipps Anderson Deacon, said at a press conference Wednesday. They also advertised opioids directly to the military and specific populations and misled prescribers regarding potential for addiction and other long-term health complications, including brain and liver damage, he explained.

The firm is working with local law firm Watts Guerra to bring the lawsuit forward on the County’s behalf.

Wolff said in addition to opioid-related deaths, the County leads the state in babies born with drug-withdrawal symptoms. Many of children removed from their homes by Child Protective Services come from families that struggle with substance abuse issues, he said.

The two law firms’ decision to file at the state level, Wolff said, will allow for a “more straightforward” legal process, as the County will communicate on its own behalf and would directly receive funds from damage awards. Any money won in litigation would be used to fund local opioid-related treatment and research programs.

“We have seen a tremendous expense in Bexar County because of this issue,” Wolff said, noting that local hospitals, jails, shelters, and treatment facilities all delegate resources toward addressing the addiction epidemic with limited space and funding. “Treatment is expensive and there aren’t enough programs – [this] all comes at a large expense to citizens,” he said.

Wolff said San Antonio and Bexar County have made progress toward gaining control of the opioid epidemic through educational efforts by the Joint Opioid Task Force, a City/County collaboration to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths in the greater San Antonio area.

Since meeting for the first time in August 2017, the task force has trained more than 200 medical providers on alternate prescribing methods for pain relief, and plans to distribute 16,000 doses of Naloxone, an opioid-reversal drug, to trained first responders including teachers, mental health professionals, and family members of opioid addicts.

But without an increase in funding for treatment throughout the city, it is less likely that those addicted to opioids will recover, Wolff said.

In 2015, 32 percent of drug overdose deaths in Bexar County were attributed to heroin or prescription opioid overdose. It is the leading cause of accidental death throughout the United States.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.