Counties file lawsuits against opioid makers, distributors
As the opioid crisis worsens in their communities, counties are taking the fight to drugmakers themselves.
American City & County previously reported that Everett, Wash. and two Ohio cities have initiated legal proceedings against opioid drug makers. Those cities accused the companies of flooding Everett’s black market with opioids and misleading the Ohio public on the benfits and risks of these medications, respectively.
Multiple cities have since followed suit, but counties are now jumping into the fray as well. On Oct. 23, Fulton County, Ga., became the first Georgia county to file a lawsuit against over 30 opioid manufacturers and distributors and individuals, according to the Marietta Daily Journal. The lawsuit claims that these entities have filled the county with addictive medications that contributed to the county’s opioid epidemic.
In a news conference, Fulton County Board of Commissioners Vice President Bob Ellis said the opioid crisis and these entities’ desire for profits has affected the county in numerous ways.
“[Addicts] have left our courts filled with an explosion of drug-related offenders, and our jails have become de facto mental-health and addiction-treatment facilities,” Ellis said, per the Daily Journal. “The cost to provide those services has exploded as a result. The impact is pushed down into our youth and children, and they have newfound challenges they are facing in our middle and high schools as a result.”
Some counties are opting for class-action suits. Two Michigan counties — Wayne and Oakland counties — filed a class-action lawsuit against 12 drug distributors and manufacturers, accusing them of deceptively marketing and selling opioids. according to Crain’s Detroit Business.
"We want to do to the opioid manufacturers and distributors the same thing we did 30-40 years ago to the tobacco industry," Oakland County Administrator L. Brooks Patterson told Crain's. "We see that they really have taken a page out of the tobacco era — false advertising, false claims, people becoming dependent on these drugs without the fair notice of what could happen to their lives."
In New Jersey, Licking County commissioners have agreed to pursue legal action against drugmakers as well, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb expects their lawsuit to be absorbed into a larger class action lawsuit. “This isn’t going to be some quick fix,” Licking County Commissioner Duane Flowers told the Dispatch. “And it’s just once piece of a puzzle. There are a thousand pieces out there.”
But not all officials in these counties agree with joining these lawsuits. The St. Lawrence County, N.Y. Services Committee voted 10-3 on Oct. 23 in favor of joining a class-action lawsuit filed against several opioid manufacturing companies, the Watertown Daily Times reports. St. Lawrence would be one of 15 counties that would have joined the filing firm Simmons, Hanly, Conroy P.C. to sue opioid manufacturers, New York North Country TV station WWNY reports.
The county won’t be charged for the lawsuit unless it results in a financial settlement, per the Daily Times. While the county will hold its final vote on the matter on Nov. 6, Legislature Chairman Kevin Acres made his opposition known.
“I don’t want to be any part of this,” he said, per the Daily Times. “The fact that we’re signing on, just because it’s free, I find absurd.” He added, “the drugs are all legal and regulated by the federal government. Trying to bring litigation against these companies that are all legal is going to be very difficult.”