TYLER, TX (KLTV) - As Smith County prepares to potentially join a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical giants over the continued opioid crisis, East Texas medical professionals are speaking about the crisis itself.
According to the lawsuit first filed by Upshur County officials, accidental drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Two-thirds of those deaths are opioid overdoses. And according to the CDC, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999.
Local doctors say that's when the trend in opioid use started. Then, as opioids became a more common way to treat recurring pain, addiction started to rise.
"In 2000 it was mostly big cities on the east and west coast," that showed signs of wider-spread opioid deaths, Neighbors ER physician Dr. Clint Carter said.
Then as the new millennium progressed, that trend spread across the entire United States. Dr. Carter says the most common victims of opioid addiction are now white males in rural areas.
"The opioid receptors in your body get used to having it all the time, and so that becomes your new normal," Dr. Carter said.
Over at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances, Dr. Gary Williamson has worked the floor since the early '90's.
"I can definitely say there's been an increase in people who come in with apparent problems with opioids," he said.
Both add that there are people who sometimes need medication that's stronger than antiinflammatory medication. The tough decision is whether or not they need full strength opioids for treatment.
"If you're on it long enough, or if you take too much or you take it too often, then it becomes an addictive medicine," Dr. Carter said. "It becomes more risk than reward.
In addition, they say it's not uncommon for patients to try to dupe doctors into prescribing the medications.
"We have patients come in who state that they're from out of town and that they lost their prescription and that their doctor won't answer their calls," Dr. Williamson said.
He says doctors who work for the hospital check for those kinds of warning signs when deciding whether or not to write the patient a prescription.
Smith County hired the same Dallas-based counsel Upshur County hired. They also hired a local Tyler attorney. It's still unclear what their next legal move will be.
Related: ETX counties addressing opioid epidemic, targeting manufacturers, distributors