Harris County sues pharmaceutical companies, doctors over opioid epidemic

“I took Vicidon, Oxycontin, anything I could find really,” said Zachary Aker.

Acker says he started doing drugs at 14 to feel happy.

“I knew I had a problem when I was taking prescriptions from my loved ones who needed it,” Acker said “My mother had arthritis and I just neglected the fact that she was in pain to fix my own.”

So how serious is the opioid epidemic?

The county attorney’s lawsuit states between 1999 and 2014 sales of prescription opioid drugs almost quadrupled in America -- not in response to patient suffering, but because more of the population are addicted to these powerful drugs. Americans now consume more than four-fifths of the global supply of opioids.

Officials say the opioid crisis here in Harris County is taking a heavy toll on taxpayer money and lives.

“Over 90 people a day die in this country because of opioid addictions,” said Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. “That filters down to Harris County where we’ve seen just in the year 2015 318 deaths attributed to opioid overdoses.”

“On any given day, our Harris County Jail is full of people suffering from substance abuse or mental health illness,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Once someone is booked into our jail, it’s the taxpayers that foot the bill for their care, and that care is significantly higher for those suffering from opioid abuse.”

Almost all opioid addicts need treatment to become recovering addicts.

“There is hope after dope, you just need to search out the right people,” Acker said.

Three of the four doctors named in the county’s civil lawsuit have federal criminal convictions for over-prescribing opioids.

The fourth doctor is criminally charged and awaiting trial.