City, county considering legal action, Wilmington among highest in opioid abuse in the nation

Left to right: City Councilman Kevin O’Grady, Mayor Bill Saffo, and County Commissioner Woody White. The city of Wilmington and New Hanover County announced the city’s plan to pursue legal action against contributors to the opioid crisis. (Port City Daily photo / JOHANNA FEREBEE)

WILMINGTON— The City of Wilmington and New Hanover County are considering taking collective legal action against parties who have caused or contributed to the issues created by the opioid crisis,” according to County Commissioner Woody White.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners is looking to target wholesale distributors of controlled substances.

The county and the city plan to pursue a lawsuit in light of national findings that rank Wilmington at the top of the nation in regard to the number of opioid abusers.


“Wilmington has the highest opioid-related abuse rate in the nation,” Mayor Bill Saffo, said. “In the entire nation.”

Saffo announced the city plans to fight the crisis with every resource they have available.

“This is a public health issue, not just a criminal issue or a government issue or a police issue,” he said.

RELATED: Opioids in the Cape Fear: ‘One of the most frightening issues of our time’

The commissioner said the county would not use any taxpayer dollars in pursuit of legal action, saying “outside legal counsel will pay the costs.” The lawsuit is being sought because New Hanover County has been struggling with the toll the opioid crisis has taken on the community and its public resources, Saffo said.

Those public sector costs include emergency response, law enforcement intervention and uncompensated medical costs according to county documents.

“Taking legal action to make the perpetrators pay for the damage they’ve inflicted is necessary,” White said.

Almost 12 percent of those prescribed opioids in Wilmington’s population abuses them, according to the study the city cited. The national study by Castlight Health also found that prescription and opioid abuse tends to be higher in the rural south and especially in North Carolina.

Governor Roy Cooper visited Wilmington last week and said that four people in North Carolina die every day from opioid-related issues.

Saffo said the crisis was “unlike anything we have ever seen before.”

“We should have the opportunity to lessen the burden on our taxpayers and save lives,” he said.

A resolution reached by the county and city will be announced on Monday, Nov. 6, during the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting. The resolution will determine the course of legal action.

Cast Light Report Opioid Crisis by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

This story has been updated to clarify actual numbers cited from the study. 


Got a story to tell? You can reach Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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