CLEVELAND, OH (WECT) - In the first hearing on a federal lawsuit filed by New Hanover County and hundreds of other communities across the nation struck by the opioid epidemic, hundreds packed a courtroom in Cleveland earlier this week.
In the transcript of the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Dan A. Polster expressed a commitment to solving the crisis this year.
New Hanover County has experienced a 1,500 percent increase in opioid-related deaths since 1999. Some have called Wilmington "ground zero" in the epidemic.
New Hanover County filed a federal lawsuit in December against several drug manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue Pharma and Cardinal Health.
An attorney for Purdue, Mark Cheffo, stated the drugmakers acknowledge there are "issues in this country."
"I think we all, to the extent that we can, want to be part of the solution and work with Your Honor in trying to hear about some of the ways that we might move forward," Cheffo told the judge.
"With all of these smart people here and their clients, I'm confident we can do something to dramatically reduce the number of opioids that are being disseminated, manufactured, and distributed," Polster said. "Because sadly, every day more and more people are being addicted, and they need treatment."
New Hanover County's case is one of more than 200 lawsuits filed by cities, counties and others over the opioid crisis. Polster is overseeing all of those cases.
Polster also expressed concern about the opioid epidemic's impact on American life expectancy, which has decreased for the second year in a row.
The hearing marks a first step in the legal proceedings.