TEXAS VIEW: Opioid epidemic demands attention from leaders


County officials across Texas are hearing from lawyers who want to help them sue pharmaceutical companies over the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

County and city governments across the state have become the focus of a legal feeding frenzy as law firms vie to represent them in lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. The firms say the companies oversold the drugs’ benefits for treating chronic pain and have downplayed the risk for addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others.

Prescription and illegal opioids account for more than 60 percent of overdose deaths in the United States, a toll that has quadrupled over the past two decades, according to the CDC. A report published by the agency suggests that the risk of chronic opioid use rises with each additional day after the third day, with a steep rise after the fifth day.

There were more than 42,000 opioid overdoses in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Texas, 1,107 people died from in 2016, according to the Texas Tribune. Texas saw 1,186 opioid-related deaths in 2015, while the nation as a whole had 33,000 such deaths that year, according to the Tribune.

The Tribune also noted that researchers have flagged opioids as a factor in Texas’ rise in women’s deaths during and shortly after pregnancy. Maternal mortality rates have increased nationwide, but a study in the journal Birth indicates an 87 percent spike in deaths in Texas.

That’s a problem.

It becomes a significant problem when compared to other countries. While maternal mortality rates are declining worldwide, there’s a 20 percent increase in the United States. Statistics show Texas has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

There are likely many reasons for the increase, including higher instances of chronic disease than in the past, access to care issues for women without insurance and a higher prevalence of cesarean sections. The easy accessibility to opioids for pain relief undoubtedly plays a part in this increase.

Medical experts with UnitedHealth Group recommend you ask your doctor or dentist these questions if you are prescribed an opiod.

  • 1. Why do I need this medicine?
  • 2. Are there other options that will address my pain?
  • 3. How long do I take this?
  • 4. Does this medicine line up with current medical guidelines?
  • 5. What are my risks for addiction?
  • 6. How does this medicine mix with other medicines I’m taking?
  • 7. What are the expected side effects?

For additional information and resources, visit newsroom.uhc.com/opioids.html.