NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The effects of the opioid crisis can be measured in several ways. Lives lost, treatment costs, or the number of drug busts are just a few.
Now experts are beginning to tally the cost of the crisis in economic terms.
Economists from Old Dominion University presented findings Thursday morning to the Hampton Roads Opioid Working Group, a broad based collaboration of law enforcement, health care workers, civic leaders, parents and other stakeholders, at the Slover Library in Norfolk.
Attorney General Mark Herring (D-Virginia) updated the group on the commonwealth’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, the owners of the company. Herring holds them largely responsible for creating the opioid crisis in Virginia. Purdue makes OxyContin a popular and addictive painkiller.
“They need to understand — the party is over and we’re coming for them,” Herring said.
“They have lived a life of unimaginable wealth and comfort, while so many families here in Hampton Roads and across the country were struggling because of addiction.”
Local economists are measuring the impact opioids are having on our region’s business. ODU economist Robert McNab estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 people in Hampton Roads have left the job market because of addiction. His colleague is encouraging local employers to adapt to the crisis and provide workplaces that are recovery-friendly, because they’ll end up saving money by reducing treatment costs and lost work time.
“Amazing statistics are telling us that individuals are taking these drugs at work,” said Barbara Blake Gonzalez.
Senator Tim Kaine appeared by video and says employers are telling him they can’t find workers who can pass a drug test. U.S. Attorney Zachary Terwilliger talked about enforcement and the scourge of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, available by mail order on the shadow internet known as the dark web.
“We’re making sure that that’s not an open-air drug market, and so we are looking at that, we’re aware of that and we have investigative techniques that we’re using,” Terwilliger said.
And Herring says despite the Sacklers’ recent offers to settle lawsuits brought by states and other governments across the nation, the two sides are still far apart.
“We want to get as much money as we can from those who have to take some personal accountability and help use that money to treat those who are suffering right now.”
Herring says the case against Purdue isn’t necessarily the last when it comes to holding companies accountable for the opioid crisis. He says multiple states including Virginia are also looking at possible action against other drug makers and distributors.