Missouri Eric Schmitt has launched a site to collect stories about the opioid epidemic.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is looking for witnesses to the horrors of opioid addiction as the state prepares for battle with major pharmaceutical companies.
This morning, Schmitt announced the launch of a website, realopioidpain.com
, to connect with Missouri residents who might testify in an ongoing lawsuit against drugmakers Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson.
The site allows anyone affected by the opioid epidemic to share their stories. At a news conference this morning in St. Louis, Schmitt spoke alongside drug counselors and relatives of people who suffered from addiction.
Julie Oziah of Springfield described the short, deadly path her daughter, Samantha Huntley, followed from a serious car crash at age sixteen to a prescription for pain pills to a heroin overdose death three days before her 21st birthday in 2017.
"It's like watching them drown, and you can't save them," Oziah said. "They're literally this far away, but you can't save them."
Missouri's lawsuit, one of more than 1,600 across the nation that name Purdue
, was filed in 2017 by then-Attorney General Josh Hawley. It alleges that "the opioid epidemic is the direct result of a carefully crafted campaign of deception carried out by Defendants."
In court filings, all of the companies named in the suit have denied wrongdoing.
Schmitt inherited the case and has made it a priority, describing the opioid epidemic as "one of the most severe health crises in history."
"This is the Missouri way of fighting back," he told reporters.
Oklahoma settled a similar lawsuit last month
with Purdue for $270 million. Schmitt said he is not sure what is in store for Missouri's suit, but that attorneys in his office are preparing for trial, currently scheduled to begin in January 2021.
"At this point, we're in full-blown litigation stage," he said.
Missouri's rate for overdose deaths are higher than the national average, according to the Center for Disease Control
. In 2017, 952 state residents died of opioid overdoses — about one of every 65 deaths in Missouri, Schmitt says.
Oziah says her daughter, Huntley, who had been a high school cheerleader before the car crash, was prescribed oxycodone for pain and continued taking other pills when her prescription ran out. The summer of her senior year, she told her mom she had become addicted to heroin.
The following years included multiple stints in rehab. Huntley died shortly after her last one.
Oziah says they did not know how addictive prescription painkillers were when her daughter started taking them. Now, she tries to save others. But the deaths keep coming.
"Her boyfriend died a few days ago," Oziah says. "So a year and a half after she passed away, he passed away from basically the same thing. It's everywhere."
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