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High time for change: Gov. and AG say legal prescription drugs are leading to deadly addiction habits

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According to the Center for Disease Control, Louisiana is rated top 20 in the US for highest number of drug related deaths, with more opioid prescriptions than residents.

"It touches every family of every size, every community in  the state of Louisiana and it's something we need to get a grip on because its starting primarily through prescription opioids," said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Drug abuse is sweeping communities in Louisiana and across the nation. Both the governor and attorney general say legal prescription drugs are leading to deadly addiction habits-- and now it's a high time for change.

Nearly 80% of American heroin users reported their abuse began with prescription pain medication, according to the national institute on drug abuse.

"Prescription pills started this epidemic  now we have illegal drugs entering into the market, like fentanyl and heroine. And I think corporate America has a responsibility to help curb this epidemic and should be involved," said Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Nearly two months ago, the Louisiana Department of Health  filed a lawsuit against major drug manufacturers. The suit claims, instead of revealing the truth about the addictiveness of prescription pills, they provided false statements to maximize profits above the health of their customers

According to the suit, Louisiana spent $296 million in health care costs alone due to opioid abuse.

"The president is right it is a public health emergency. But you also have local sheriffs' offices and parish governments, for example, that have incurred damages as well because of the way  'pharma' companies pushed these opioids in such high numbers into our community as they did around the country," said Gov. Edwards.

And now the attorney general is seeking control of that lawsuit.

"It's very problematic, nowhere in the country are you seeing governors getting involved as far as leading the lawsuit. It’s the attorney generals and the reason the attorney generals are leading is because they are the chief legal officers of the state," said Landry.

When asked if there was correspondence between the attorney general's office and the governor's office regarding the lawsuit, Edwards admitted they did not coordinate on the lawsuit prior to it being filed.

"Well since the lawsuit was filed we've had multiple meetings with the attorney general ," he said.

Meanwhile  separately each have taken steps to fight the opioid epidemic in their own way.

Edwards' administration says under Medicaid expansion, physicians are prescribing fewer prescriptions per person.

"If you have more health insurance, you're going to have more healthcare. And so there are going to be more people who will be prescribed pain pills as they were before.  But under the new rules we have in place this past year, those prescriptions were limited to 7 days, where as they weren't similarly limited before," he said.

The governor's office also signed two other bills. One that created an advisory council on opioid abuse prevention  and another which requires doctors to get drug diversion training and prescribing the right medication.

"This is going to be a long term effort- this is not something you can just make 2 or 3 policy changes today and declare victory. But it's going to take a good long while to get on top of this but I'm absolutely confident were going to do it," said Edwards.

Meanwhile the attorney general already settled one lawsuit started by the previous attorney general against a drug company, Pfizer, the company which makes a drug that can instantly reverse the effects of an overdose. From the settlement, the state of Louisiana received $1 million worth of Naloxone that was distributed to first responders.

"Ending this epidemic is going to need a partnership and those pharmaceutical companies were hoping are part of that partnership as well. And they can either come to the table voluntarily or we can go to court," said Landry.

According to the CDC, Louisiana went from 188 drug related deaths in 1999 to 861 in 2015. State officials say that increase is at the hands of pharmaceutical companies.

"This case is about whether or not these manufacturers put out information to doctors that said that these opioids were not addictive and they could be prescribed for moderate to severe pain without any fact that the patient could be addicted to it. But litigation costs a lot of money. It costs the tax payers a lot of money, if there's a way we can come to a resolution absent litigation you always want to do that," said Landry.

Both the attorney general and governor know there is still a long road ahead before the crisis is over

"Well we want to make sure this epidemic ends. That we aren't needlessly causing people to become addicted to opioids, that we aren't causing people to go onto the street and access heroin for example, and is leading to a bunch of over dose deaths as well," said Edwards.

"It is costing lives. People are losing their children their friends their parents and it's time for us to come together, figure out a way to stem this epidemic, then do something about it," said Landry.

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