of the state, we carry out functions for the state, but we incur our own costs. Tat unique understanding in how social work occurs on the county level is critical if we want to fully under- stand the costs that we have incurred.” “We want to have as many counties represented by as few legal teams as possible,” O’Connell said. “Te fewer of them at the table, the more likely we’ll have a productive conversation.” Given the number of federal suits involved, a mid-December motion of a multidistrict litigation hearing will consolidate the federal suits for pretrial litigation before one judge, and Phil- lips expects a decision in early 2018. “Te cases ought to be sited in Wisconsin given the number of counties that are involved now,” he said.

Counties signing on

Eau Clair County is one of the Wisconsin counties suing. Board Chairman Gregg Moore said it was important to hold

drug companies responsible for their role in the crisis, but ac- knowledged it was still difficult to do so. “Pharmaceutical companies do a lot of good work; they cre- ate a lot of vital medicines that mean the difference between life and death for a lot of people,” he said. “But in this case, their product has caused ongoing damage in terms of lives lost and the services counties have to provide.” Moore said the attorneys working the case on a contingency

basis reduce the financial commitment on the part of counties and make the choice to join the lawsuits easier. Contingency fees for attorneys range between 25 to 30 percent. Phillips said legal action wasn’t entirely the last resort for counties seeking relief, but it may be the most direct. “We’ve heard from membership that the opioid epidemic is busting budgets,” he said. “We view litigation as not the only way to get them help but certainly one of the primary ways to get member counties some direct assistance as it comes to bat- tling this epidemic.” O’Connell says it’s a no-brainer for most, and that state as- sociations would assist in assessing damages. “If you exist in the United States as a unit of local govern-

ment, you have incurred damages,” he said. “Some may look at this and say we’re a low population county, it may not be worth it for me to review records over 20 years to figure out how much we’ve spent, but more than likely they’ll look at it and say it’s worthwhile.” In early 2017, Santa Clara and Orange counties in California settled with Teva for $1.6 million, which will fund substance treatment and education efforts.

County costs

In Marathon County, Wisconsin, a jail built to house 182 inmates has been averaging 420 in 2017, and even more have been sent to neighboring county jails to the cost of $1.2 mil- lion per year. On top of drug possession charges, addicts often resort to burglary and theft to fund drug habits. “Tat’s only part of it, you have additional costs of social work- ers, the cost to the county is just astronomical,” said Kurt Gibbs, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors. “Tey’re costs we never expected years ago that are now becoming routine.”


By late October, Marathon County’s costs for out-of-home placement services for children of addicted parents in 2017 is already $456,000 over 2016’s entire year budget. Urban counties, too Tarrant and Dallas counties are two of the largest in the

county, and their participation is a harbinger of other large ur- ban counties’ involvement. Te topic got attention last month at the Large Urban County Caucus Symposium in Salt Lake County, where a panel of experts discussed suing opioid manu- facturers and distributors. “Where the political and regulatory processes have failed,

the courts are sometimes the last resort for trying to get some kind of compensation,” said moderator Teneille Ruth Brown of the SJ Quinney College of Law at University of Utah. Counties considering whether to sue an opioid manufacturer

or distributor should plan to go to trial, said Danny Chou, as- sistant county counsel, Santa Clara County, California Coun- sel’s Office, where he oversees impact litigation. “We go into every lawsuit that we file with the assumption

that we are going to go to trial,” he said. “We find that in order to litigate against these large corporate defendants, if they don’t believe you’re willing to go to trial, they’ll just run all over you.” Harriet Ryan, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, who is

part of a team at the newspaper reporting on the opioid cri- sis, said that drug manufacturers have armed themselves with information about alleged illicit activity involving their pre- scription opioids, but have done little to stop it, in order to continue to make profits. Te newspaper published a series of articles last year about the opioid epidemic, focusing on Purdue Pharma, a manufac- turer of OxyContin. Among the report’s findings: In 2007, the U.S. Justice Department and several states

reached a settlement with Purdue Pharma for its early market- ing of OxyContin which claimed the drug was less addictive than it actually was, reaching a $600 million settlement. Te reporters found there was a “duration” problem with OxyContin, where it wears off early in many patients, foster- ing addiction, and making people “accidental addicts.” Illicit trafficking of OxyContin showed involvement by drug dealers and gangs. “Our investigation showed that this com- pany, with its beautiful headquarters in Stanford, Connecticut, collected lots and lots of evidence of suspected trafficking of its pills. In many, many cases they never turned it over to law en- forcement. Tey did not stop the flow of their pills into ‘dirty’ pharmacies that were fueling our national problem.” What’s happening now that sales of opioids are falling? Te family that owns Purdue has a strategy for replacing their lost revenues by selling pills in China, Latin America and Africa, using a lot of the same tactics they used here. Te opioid crisis “reveals so much that’s broken in our sys- tem and so many failures,” Brown said. “Failures in regulatory law, failures in our response, failures in regulating doctors and pharmaceutical companies. Tere isn’t one corner of society that is immune.”

By Charlie Ban, NACo County News senior writer and web editor, and Mary Ann Barton, NACo County News senior writer.


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