State senator wants pharmaceutical companies held responsible for opioid addiction

State senator wants pharmaceutical companies held responsible for opioid addiction

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lawmaker is asking the state attorney general to consider litigation against pharmaceutical manufacturers over the opioid crisis that has resulted in overdose deaths and addictions.

"I've treated patients in the E.R. that have overdosed, come near death, and I've seen people that have crashed their cars into other cars, and I've seen fatalities," said state Sen. Josh Green (D-Kona, Ka'u).

Green -- who's also a physician -- says opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone are responsible. He wants Hawaii to join Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi in filing suit against the drug manufacturers. He says drug makers knew that the painkillers were potentially life-threatening and addicting, but acted fraudulently to convince Hawaii doctors and patients otherwise.

"They really, really promoted and upsold these kinds of products to doctors all across the country and the world," he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015. The CDC also said opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999.

Hawaii hasn't been immune from the opioid crisis around the nation. It's been evident at the Queen's Medical Center emergency room.

"We see more pain medication related cases in the emergency department than we saw a decade ago," said Dr. Rick Bruno, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Queen's.

The state Health Department has called it a public health crisis. Health officials said more people have died in Hawaii from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes.

According to the DOH, between 2010 and 2014, there were 778 drug overdose deaths in Hawaii. Of those, more than a third -- 270 -- were from opioid pain relievers.

In a statement, Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said, "As recently as this week I have been meeting with my fellow attorneys general regarding the best way to approach this fight -- including the possibility of litigation -- and will continue these discussions with Governor Ige in the coming days and weeks."

Green said he's not seeking retribution from the drug makers. Instead, he wants to have a settlement that would assist the families who have been impacted by painkiller abuse.

"They've profited from these drugs, and now they're going to have to pay for the rehabilitation for people who become addicted," he said.

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