Of the 2,900 babies born last year in Cabell County, West Virginia, 500 had to be weaned off of opioid dependence. In Ohio, counties are renting refrigerated trailers to store the mounting number of bodies of drug overdose victims. In New Hampshire, hospitals have so many overdose patients they have to treat them in operating rooms and neonatal nurseries. And in Palm Beach County, Florida, where President Donald Trump spends his weekends, 10 people died of overdoses on Friday alone, likely from a batch of heroin tainted by fentanyl, a powerful, synthetic opioid pain medication. After a decade and hundreds of thousands of deaths, the US opioid addiction crisis is entering a new phase. With the government finally cracking down on the free flow of prescription pain killers fueling the crisis, addicts are turning to heroin pouring in from Mexico. And towns, cities and states are being overwhelmed. More than 33,000 people across the country died in 2015 from opioid overdoses, up 15.5 percent from 2014.
That equated to a record 10 overdose deaths for every 100,000 people -- 10 times the level in 1971, when the US government declared its "War on Drugs" after a surge in overdoses. But whereas six years ago four out of five overdose deaths came from prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, now heroin and heroin-fentanyl deaths account for about half. In Cabell County, the overdose death rate was about 30 per 100,000, not even the highest in West Virginia, the state hit hardest by the addiction crisis. Lawyer Paul Farrell last week filed suit for Cabell and a neighboring county, Kanawha, seeking damages from drug companies for dumping massive amounts of addictive opioids into the state, fueling the addiction epidemic. "My community is dying on a daily basis," he said. Every sixth baby born locally suffers from neonatal abstinence syndrome, in which a mother's addiction is passed on to her child. "The hospital has to rock these babies 24 hours a day as they scream their way through addiction," Farrell said. He said counties like his had little choice but to sue to force drug companies to pay for the present and future costs of the crisis. "What we're asking for is not only to hold them responsible for blatantly violating federal and state laws, but to fix the damage they caused, so that we stop creating another generation of addicts," Farrell said.