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Minneapolis plans to sue companies that make and distribute painkillers

Opioid overdoses are rising – and treating them falls on first responders.

Painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin are being prescribed more often than they used to, and that's contributed to the rise in the number of overdose deaths, the CDC says. People get addicted to these prescription opioids, then sometimes turn to street drugs like heroin to get their fix.

Treating those overdoses is a responsibility that falls on first responders. In Minneapolis, the fire department has responded to 363 opioid overdoses in the past 18 months, the city says, a huge jump compared to before.

Naloxone – a fast, effective overdose-reversal drug – has been issued 551 times during that span, and 328 lives have been saved.

All of that costs money.

So the Minneapolis City Council voted Friday to sue opioid makers and distributors, hoping to recoup the funds it has spent fighting what it calls the "opioid crisis."

The city council's vote essentially OKs the city attorney to get the lawsuit going.

“The misrepresentations, deceptive and dangerous marketing practices, oversupply and failure to comply with federal reporting requirements of opioid manufacturers and distributors are among the leading causes of our current spiral of opioid-related addiction, overdoses and deaths,” City Attorney Susan Segal said in a news release

This has happened a lot recently

This might sound like a strange step – a city suing companies that legally make and sell a prescription drug.

But it's becoming way more common, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse finding three-quarters of opioid abusers said a prescription drug was their first opioid.

As of this week, more than 100 cities, states and counties have filed lawsuits against drug companies, Governing reported.

“It’s devastated county and municipal budgets," Mark Chalos, a Nashville-based lawyer, told the site. "There’s been a significant cost for law enforcement, first responders, for drug treatment, for lost productivity of government workers and for services like autopsies."

Minneapolis' suit would be among the first in Minnesota, according to Governing's database. The city will ask for money to pay back the costs it has incurred because of opioid abuse, as well as "other relief."

CityPages reported this week two counties in Minnesota – Mower and St. Louis – have also voted to start lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. 

The Atlantic compares the opioid legal actions to a 1998 lawsuit against tobacco companies, filed by 46 states and six other jurisdictions. The case was settled, the tobacco companies agreed to pay the states – forever – to fund public health and anti-smoking efforts.

In September, NPR reported the attorneys general of 41 states banded together to investigate the crisis, with New York's AG noting opioid distributors alone pull in more than $500 billion every year in revenue.

In 2016, 2,450 opioid overdoses were reported in Minnesota, including 376 deaths. 

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