Hamilton County considering legal action to fight opioid epidemi - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Hamilton County considering legal action to fight opioid epidemic

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Cities, counties and states nationwide are taking legal action in the battle against opioids and Hamilton County could be next in line to sue. 

Recent lawsuits claim drug distributors and manufacturers are not reporting suspicious opioids purchases or orders. Attorney Ronald "Ronnie" Berke is working to build a similar case in our area. 

The county commission agreed to work with Berke to address opioids in a meeting this week. Berke has worked with other attorney's nationwide who are also pushing for lawsuits on the issue. He says the next step is figuring out how much the epidemic is costing Hamilton County agencies. 

"This is a major crisis and it's costing the taxpayers a lot of money," said Berke. 

Berke says his fight against the opioid epidemic is personal. 

"I have a very close friend who's daughter is hooked on opioids and even rehab did not work and every phone call she's afraid to pick up the phone." 

He says drug distributors, manufacturers and drug stores are part of the problem. 

"Some of the distributors and manufacturers are located here, but they're pushing their pills here in Hamilton County," said Berke. "They can tell by their sales what they were doing. We can show where they were telling doctors about the addictive nature or what they were claiming was the non-addictive measure of opioids that they knew that I was a lie, but it was selling their drugs."

A lawsuit would list which companies are committing fraud in Hamilton County. 

"We're going to have to talk to all of the different departments in the county; fire departments, sheriffs office, probation department, district attorneys office juvenile court," said Berke.

Channel 3 took a look at data Berke collected from the state Department of Health. In 2015 37 people died from an opioid overdose; that number jumped to 53 in 2016. That same year, 388,506 opioid prescriptions were given in Hamilton County.  Berke says those numbers will continue to rise.

READ MORE | Hamilton Co. paramedics encountering opioid overdoses

"There are more prescriptions being written in some counties then people could conceivably take." 

Berke plans to avoid a class action suit in order to stay in control of damages and potential settlements. He says he will to go before the commission again in a few months to get more feedback on new information. He  says if the lawsuit is approved, it could take a few years for a resolution in at the state or federal level. 

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