EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that a newly created opioid task force will review state and local lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.
Upshur County is one of ten East Texas counties who joined a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers last fall. The petitioners are seeking to recover millions of dollars in costs associated with treatment and public safety.
Overdoses due to opioids peaked in 2014 and continue to decline, but Upshur County Commissioner Mike Spencer says, "you can drive down the street, you see it every day, and if you're looking you see the problems."
Because of the staggering opioid epidemic, counties all over the U.S. have been filing lawsuits against drug distributors and manufacturers, believing the pharmaceutical companies are misleading doctors as to how truly addictive these painkillers can be, and reaping the financial benefits after all is said and done.
"They're not sharing any of those billions of profits with the people funding all of these jails, law enforcement, indigent healthcare, but they reap all the profits," criminal attorney Todd Tefteller says.
The opioid response is costing East Texas taxpayers millions of dollars each year. County governments say the decision by the justice department is welcome news.
"You can read between the lines about how much this country, this State of Texas, the counties of Texas, spend on law enforcement and jails and mental health and indigent health care. It's staggering," Tefteller says.
Tefteller says a quarter of Upshur County's budget goes to law enforcement and jails.
"I've seen some figures that suggest that the damages in Upshur County alone are between $5,000,000 and $9,000,000, in the last 5 to 6 years."
In 2016, 7 out of 50,000 people died from drug poisoning in Upshur County, according to the CDC.
Titus, Rusk, Harrison and Smith counties are also part of the lawsuit.