EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — The opioid epidemic claims lives every year. Families and the medical field are continuing to find ways to help fight it.

A nationwide settlement with opioid pharmaceutical companies could provide relief in the future. That multi-billion dollar settlement is still in litigation. Three major companies are to blame for the epidemic that affects so many today.

Half a million people have died from the opioid epidemic from 1999 to 2019 according to the CDC. In the past decade, heroin, synthetic and prescribed opioid deaths have increased rapidly.

“The opioid epidemic is still an issue in our community. If anything the pandemic has probably made it worse,” Wright Center for Community Health medical director Dr. Erin McFadden said.

Dr. McFadden says illicit drugs and prescribed opioids continue to fuel the epidemic. According to McFadden, the medical industry was naïve in the ’80s and ’90s when opioids were first used to treat pain.

“We have no idea what the impacts were going to be. Unfortunately with time, we found out people became addicted, they developed dependence, tolerance and have astronomical addiction,” Dr. McFadden said.

The Wright Center for Community Health’s opioid center of excellence is a state-recognized center.

“We specially focus on medical treatment of opioid addiction with the use of supplements, replacements, buprenorphine therapies to treat patients who have developed opioid dependence,” Dr. McFadden said.

“Lawyers, doctors, I mean you name it, teachers, students, all walks of life have been affected by this opioid epidemic,” attorney Ed Ciarimboli with Fellerman & Ciarimboli said.

Ciarimboli is one of the lawyers representing Luzerne County in a nationwide $26 billion settlement with opioid pharmaceutical companies that is claimed to have fueled the deadly epidemic.

“They were just over prescribing and the opioids were being prescribed for, really, for injuries, for things you use to get Tylenol for or Motrin for and now all of sudden they were more aggressive with pain,” Ciarimboli said.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced in November Pennsylvania would see about $1.1 billion of the settlement. The money will be distributed in part to recovery facilities to help those addicted, according to the AG.

“Luzerne County is one of the hardest-hit counties in the whole country regarding this opioid epidemic,” Ciarimboli said.

The litigation is still ongoing so there is no timeframe as to when states will start to see the money.