The US is in the middle of an opioid abuse epidemic.

The US is in the middle of an opioid abuse epidemic.

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Multnomah County is expected to vote Thursday to designate opioids as a “public nuisance.”

That’s significant because it would lay the groundwork for the county to sue pill makers in the future.

The Department of Health and Human Services has reported the U.S. is the middle of an epidemic of opioid abuse — with thousands of people dying each year and a cost to taxpayers of $55 billion.

By declaring opioids a “public nuisance” Multnomah County is taking the first step in a legal battle to recoup some of those costs from manufacturers.

Speaking to OPB on Wednesday, County Chair Deborah Kafoury compared opioid manufactures to Big Tobacco.

“They pushed a product on consumers that they knew was harmful, that they knew was destructive, and that they knew could damage people’s lives,” Kafoury said. “And they weren’t open at all about it.”

Lawyers for the county are expected to argue drug manufacturers knew how addictive their products were and didn’t do enough to control misuse.

A public nuisance is legally considered to be a criminal wrong because it is an act that obstructs or damages the rights of the community.

A spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA said they’re unable to comment because the move is closely related to potential legal action.

PhRMA’s website says prescriptions are generally safe, but only when taken as prescribed for the intended purpose.