Concerns over opioids (prescription painkillers) are becoming more and more evident in Lincoln County as they are elsewhere in the state.

Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication. They can have serious side effects if used incorrectly.

An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted that just three days after Nevada’s new opioid prescription law took effect Jan. 1, doctors are concerned about the law’s paperwork demands and penalties for noncompliance.

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners dealt with the subject at their first meeting of the new year, Jan. 2, as they considered being part of a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Clark County’s Board of Commissioners and District Attorney Steve Wolfson announced just this week, they are filing suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors amid the opioid crisis.

Lincoln County Commissioner Varlin Higbee echoed Chairman Paul Donohue’s question wanting more details about the lawsuit. He said, “Who’s fault is it? The pharmacy for overselling opioids or the manufacturers for making them?”

He said that in a recent meeting of the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) he attended, the same question was posed and the answer given was, “it’s the fault of the drug companies. They call it ‘dumping.’ Giving the doctors and some pharmacies [more] additional free sample packs than are needed, and they are encouraged to give them to patients. It is part of the reason the last few years there has been such an opioid problem in the country,”

A recent op-ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal stated that in the late 1990s, the pharmaceutical manufacturers began an aggressive effort to convince doctors and the general public on the merits of “these new ‘wonder pain pills.’”

The article continued to say, “Today, 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids … an increase of more than 400 percent since 1999, and over 259 million prescriptions in 2012.”

Lincoln County Assistant District Attorney Franklin Katschke said trying to prosecute those cases here locally would be a problem, “because we just don’t have the resources. We would need to find a larger law firm to help us, or one that is already engaged in such actions, and I don’t think we want to go that direction.”

Higbee said that at the NACO meeting, a law firm asked NACO if they wanted to be a part of the lawsuit, and it was decided to ask each individual county for consensus.

At present, the state of Nevada has not filed a civil complaint against the opioid manufacturers, but is considering the action.

County Sheriff Kerry Lee told Lincoln County Commissioners “it is happening here, too, although not as bad as in some other states. But it’s not good. Users often turn to heroin afterwards. Because of the opioids, heroin is making a comeback that we hadn’t seen for some time. Now all of a sudden it’s back.” Heroin has the same chemical compound as prescription opioids.

Katschke reported, “There is no question, it is a problem, maybe an epidemic-like problem,” but he did not know if local pharmacies are dispensing the free samples.

He said the lawsuit being proposed stems “from the manner of marketing, the way the drugs are being sold. Anywhere you go, it is a problem.”

Paul Donohue questioned what would be the benefit of participating in a lawsuit. “We’re going to be hurting the people who really do need the opioids, and maybe just get a few bucks out of it. It’s two-sided. We need to be in the middle, not clear over to one side or the other, help people who need it, and deal with the abuses. But maybe we could set up a drug rehab fund from the monies awarded by the lawsuit.”

Commissioners did approve the motion to inform NACO where Lincoln County stands on the issue but also to appoint Commissioners Donohue and Kevin Phillips to gather more information on the question.

The RJ article noted that Nevada did not participate in the 1998 tobacco litigation case – one that led to 46 states settling with tobacco companies for $206 billion, and Nevada only received a lump sum of $1.2 billion from the settlement they were not part of. Minnesota, which did participate, settled for $6 billion and now receives $200 million annually in perpetuity.