Milwaukee County taking steps to sue drugmakers & drug store chains in light of opioid epidemic

Posted at 9:57 PM, Oct 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-26 02:46:54-04

Every sixteen hours someone in Milwaukee County dies from a probable overdose.  

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office expects at least 425 people to die from drug use this year. That's a 25 percent increase from last year.

A TODAY'S TMJ4 camera crew walked with volunteers Wednesday as they picked up used needles on Milwaukee's south side. Milwaukee County officials say it's such a problem, they are now taking steps to potentially sue drugmakers.

"People expect to get high, and they end up dead," say Bill Lauer, a recovering addict turned advocate. He now runs the organization Friends of Recovery.

"It tears families apart and ruins people's lives faster than anything I've ever seen or experienced before."

Lauer says it's time to hold the people and corporations that make, supply, and give out prescription painkillers, more accountable.

"They have huge responsibility in cleaning up the problem that they helped to create," he says. "There is an underlying pressure to prescribe, with incentives for doctors and hospitals to prescribe this drug over that drug, and so on. There are companies and families that have hugely profited from this epidemic."

That's why Milwaukee County might soon join dozens of others across the country, in filing lawsuits against the drug companies and drug store chains, that make opioids so easy to get, and without adequate warning.

"It would help us recuperate the loss that we've suffered as a county, and better assist addicts going forward," says Milwaukee County Supervisor Peggy West. 

"We have to have some kind of money or funding to rebuild our communities," Lauer adds. "What's needed is not going to come from the government or tax money. Sure, a lawsuit wouldn't solve the root cause of addiction, but it would at least raise some awareness and set a precedent that this is an aspect of our culture that needs to be healed."

Proof of that is in the loss of lives, and the millions of dollars spent trying to curb this crisis, as highlighted in Milwaukee County's proposed 2018 budget.

"We've put in somewhere around $330,000 for a piece of equipment that will help us identify much earlier what exactly it is that someone has died from, whether it be fentanyl or heroin," West says. "So we can have better insight into what's circulating throughout our community at all times."

That money could be used for many other things, if this epidemic was not overpowering our area.

West says Milwaukee County is looking to hire an attorney to handle this, and it's not alone. Sheboygan County also moving toward a potential lawsuit against national drug companies.