opioid epidemic

When workers who have been injured on the job go to pharmacies to fill prescriptions for opioid painkillers, they will soon be getting something else with it. 

Democratic presidential candidate entrepreneur Andrew Yang responds to questions following a Democratic presidential primary debate at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville.
Tony Dejak / AP

During Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate in Westerville, two candidates discussed the idea of decriminalizing opioids.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. ET on Oct. 24

Make no mistake: The legal fight over liability for the U.S. opioid crisis is only heating up.

There's no doubt that opioids have been massively overprescribed in U.S. In the haste to address the epidemic, there's been pressure on doctors to reduce prescriptions of these drugs — and in fact prescriptions are declining. But along the way, some chronic pain patients have been forced to rapidly taper or discontinue the drugs altogether.

Now, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a new message for doctors: Abrupt changes to a patient's opioid prescription could harm them.

Cuyahoga and Summit County leaders say they plan to spend the tens of millions already awarded in opioid settlements on drug treatment and prevention programs.

Both counties released plans for the settlement money Thursday, less than two weeks before they both take their claims against the drug industry to trial in federal court in Cleveland. The two counties will be the first among thousands of plaintiffs to make their case before a jury in the massive case.

Drug companies may try to turn the tables on Cuyahoga County in the coming federal opioid trial, presenting evidence on the troubled the county jail and in the department of children and family services in an effort to minimize the role of their drugs in local problems.

With jury selection scheduled to begin next week and opening statements set for Oct. 21, attorneys for both sides are disputing which evidence and witnesses should be presented at trial.

Editor's note: To protect the anonymity of the children in this story, we are not using their names.

Children are often called the hidden casualties of the opioid epidemic. They carry a lot of secrets and shame.

This month, attorneys representing Cuyahoga and Summit counties will try to convince a jury to hold the drug industry responsible for the opioid crisis.

The neighboring Northeast Ohio counties are among the more than 2,000 local governments, Native American tribes and other groups suing opioid manufacturers and distributors in federal court.

Although Cuyahoga County and Summit County just reached another lawsuit with an opioids manufacturer, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost says there's still time for the court to hear his argument to pause the landmark opioid court case for thousands of local government in order for the state's case to go first.

Johnson & Johnson and two Ohio counties have reached a tentative $20.4 million settlement that removes the corporation from the first federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, scheduled to begin later this month.

The state of Ohio is one of the bloodiest battlefields in the national war on opioids.

By 2017, Ohio was second to West Virginia in rates of overdose deaths — 5,111. State district attorneys are battling with the makers of prescription opioids, and the settlements will someday help pay for programs to help addicts.

In the U.S., the opioid crisis is about too many opioids. In some other parts of the world, the opioid problem is about the exact opposite — a lack of access to powerful pain management drugs. As pharmaceutical companies are being sued in the U.S. for flooding the market with opioids, doctors in West Africa say they can't even get hold of those painkillers.

When prescribed appropriately, opioids can be vital tools in hospitals and clinics. The drugs make patients more comfortable and can speed recovery.

Paige Pfleger / WOSU

At first glance, the people inside Franklin County Municipal Court room 13C have little in common. There’s a man in cutoff jean shorts with tattooed arms. Behind him sits a younger woman with freckles who looks like she came from soccer practice.

The group is bound together by circumstance: All were addicted to opioids and got in trouble with the law.

Updated at 4:02 p.m. ET

Federal prosecutors are charging 11 doctors with unlawfully distributing opioids and other substances, in the second large operation to target "pill mill" operators and health care fraud this year. Two other people also face charges in the sting.

"The alleged conduct resulted in the distribution of more than 17 million pills" in the Appalachian region, the Justice Department said.

Dave Yost speaks at the Ohio Republican Party event, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Yost was elected as the next Ohio attorney general.
Tony Dejak / Associated Press

After taking heat for arguing the state should have a lead role in next month’s huge opioid trial in Cleveland, Ohio’s attorney general says he thinks any money won should be spent at the local level.

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