Over 100 counties lining up to sue big pharma

County lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, hoping to recoup costs from treating opioid epidemic, total more than 100

costs they have borne in treating or jailing residents addicted to opioid-based painkillers, heroin or fentanyl, due in large part to marketing by several drug companies that obscured how addictive the drugs could be. Twenty-nine Wisconsin coun- ties filed lawsuits Nov. 7, and the same day a 37th Kentucky county joined its state association’s effort, with other counties deciding to sue almost weekly. Te same day in Texas, Dallas and Tarrant counties filed their suits. Tree state associations of counties so far are taking lead roles in coordinating action. Te Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) is awaiting individual counties to authorize suits and sign engagement letters, after the state’s county judges association voted unan- imously to support possible litigation. None of the suits are enumerating damages, yet. At the same time, several state attorneys general have filed suit on behalf of their states. Mark O’Connell, executive di- rector of the Wisconsin Counties Association, said that while that may seem duplicative, the $206 billion tobacco settlement slighted local governments, and separate action was the best way to make sure governments’ damages were addressed. “What rings in the ears of county officials was when the


states’ attorneys general filed suit and prevailed in a settlement with tobacco companies, the states indicated to local units of government that the states would receive some kind of com- pensation and then they’ll share with the locals,” he said. “All of that worked out pretty well except the sharing part. Tat’s where the states forgot. We wish the states well in their efforts,


he 1998 tobacco settlement looms over the growing number of counties suing pharmaceutical compa- nies for their marketing of opioid painkillers. More than 100 counties are suing to recover the

but we as counties have our own costs, our own challenges, our own damages.” Te Wisconsin suit targets Purdue, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson

& Johnson, Janssen and Endo, among others, and a few doctors. “We’re going to pursue those damages on behalf of each and

every county. I expect over 60 (Wisconsin) counties will par- ticipate. For Wisconsin counties, we’re looking at hundreds of millions in damages. Nationally, we’re in the billions.” O’Connell envisions a national effort by state associations to organize their members in suits, rather than a top-down na- tional effort. “Even an issue like this, it’s hard to get 3,069 cats looking the same way,” he said.

Te legal team Along with Andy Phillips, who has served as the state asso-

ciation’s general counsel for more than a decade, the Wisconsin counties are represented by Crueger Dickinson of Wisconsin, and Simmons Hanly Conroy of New York, the latter also repre- senting 10 New York counties in their pharmaceutical lawsuits. Paul Hanly of Simmons Hanly Conroy is, so far, the only attorney to prevail against a pharmaceutical company, when he won a $7.5 million mass action judgment against Purdue in 2004. Tat also led to a $600 million federal fine and jail time for executives.

When selecting representation for a similar lawsuit, O’Connell advises counties that it was crucial that a firm un- derstands how counties operate. “We’re different from cities, we’re different from our friends in the towns, we’re different from states, we’re very unique,” he said. “We’re creatures of the state, we perform at the pleasure


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