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$650M opioid settlement for Lake, Trumbull counties comes as overdose deaths rise

While addiction psychiatrist Dr. Christina Delos Reyes says it looked like the opioid epidemic peaked in 2017, numbers spiked again during COVID.

LAKE COUNTY, Ohio — Three major pharmacies will be paying up big time when it comes to the opioid epidemic and the thousands of lives lost.

CVS, Walgreens and Walmart were ordered to pay $650 million to Lake and Trumbull counties by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland on Wednesday. Polster ordered the companies to pay nearly $87 million to cover the first two years. 

Trumbull County is to receive $444 million over a period of 15 years.

Meanwhile, $306 million dollars over the same period will be paid to Lake County. However, experts say damage is still being done as a result of easy access to the highly addictive medications.

Between 2012 and 2016, 61 million pills were distributed in Lake County alone.

That's nearly 42,000 pills per day.

"It may start out very innocently," explains Dr. Christina Delos Reyes, program director of addiction psychiatry at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. "You may have your wisdom teeth pulled out, you might have a surgery on your knee and then you're given opioids and a certain percentage of people, around 13 to 15 percent of us has the propensity for addiction."

Dr. Delos Reyes says at this point, it's hard to find someone who hasn't been impacted by the opioid epidemic in some way. Isolation from COVID has actually made things worse.

"More people have died in the last year from overdoses than ever before in our history and right now in America, somebody dies of an overdose every five minutes," Delos Reyes said.

It's something Rosemary Pratt knows all too well.

Pratt's son Ricky was 28 when he overdosed on drugs laced with fentanyl in 2020.

She plans to carry on his name by de-stigmatizing addiction.

"People need to be made aware that this can happen to anybody, any family. Nobody's exempt from it. I mean it's happening to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, you know sons, daughters and the stigma... it needs to change," Pratt said.

So while $306 million might sound like a lot, it does little for the families who have lost someone irreplaceable.

"The impact on our country and community is actually in the hundreds of billions, and so yes, I'm impressed and I'm glad it's coming into our communities. I worry it won't make it where it needs to go," Delos Reyes said.

"Today marks the start of a new day in our fight to end the opioid epidemic," Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck said in a statement after the $306 million was awarded. 

There are multiple local resources for people struggling with addiction. If you are looking for a local treatment facility, Dr. Delos Reyes recommends www.drughelp.care

University Hospitals have facilities for addiction treatment at the main campus and Westlake location. The number to call for more information is 216-844-5566.

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