County ponders taking on drug companies

While the Washington County commissioners continue to ponder whether to join a national lawsuit against drug distributors in connection with the opioid crisis, about 200 public entities, including counties and cities across the country, have attached their names to the list of plaintiffs suing the companies.

Now called the “National Consortium,” the plaintiffs have agreed to be represented by a group of six litigation firms taking action in federal court against Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson Co. with allegations that each “played a pivotal role in in creating a public nuisance by failing to regulate order of prescription opiates,” according to a statement by the law firms. The individual lawsuits have been rolled into a mass district litigation in the Northern District of Ohio federal district court.

The Council of Economic Advisors has put the cost of the opioid crisis nationwide at more than $500 billion, including publicly funded costs that fall at the county level such as law enforcement, jail and court costs, medical care and rehabilitation, and child welfare.

Doug Corcoran, a commissioner in Ross County, said his county was approached by the Dale Seif law firm in Chillicothe, the same legal group that made a presentation in March to Washington County.

“We sat down and talked about all the problems we’re having, financially and in the community. It seemed like a chance to get some money to help solve the problems, repair some of the damage, an opportunity to get funding to back-fill these holes,” he said.

In addition, the county hopes a settlement might help finance present and future needs growing out of the opioid addiction crisis..

“There’s hope we could get help with treatment options, and funding for prevention efforts in the schools and community,” Corcoran said. “That’s the key to ending this epidemic.”

Ken Karper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, said it didn’t require a lot of time to decide that his county would join the litigation.

“The damage done by the opioid crisis is incalculable, and they didn’t need to tell us what the benefit would be,” he said. “We determined a long time ago in trying to recover for the taxpayers the harm done by distributors and manufacturers.”

Both Karper and Corcoran said they could see little downside for the counties in joining the lawsuit — the lawyers will do most of the work gathering information on claims and are doing it on a contingency basis, taking part of the award if the lawsuit is successful and charging nothing if it isn’t.

“There’ll be very little work for us,” Karper said. “Generally, the attorney’s job is to assemble the claim, but the county will have to provide the records they need.”

“We didn’t really see any risk, that’s why we joined,” Corcoran said. “We had some concerns up front but through discussions with the attorneys we didn’t see anything that could hurt us. What really made our minds up was that there’s no cost involved, and hopefully it won’t cause too much work for our people.”

Washington County commissioner David White said in an interview in late March after a presentation by Seif that the commission has some time to consider it — “the people who come out of this smelling like a rose are the lawyers” — but the commission also has to consider what it would be leaving behind if the lawsuit succeeds and the county doesn’t join it.

Dale Seif represented Seif and McNamee of Waverly, but he deferred comment to Paul Farrel, Jr., of Greene Ketchum, a firm in Huntington, W. Va., that is one of the firms in the six-member litigation team. Farrel could not be reached for comment.

At a glance

National Opioid Litigation:

¯ Number of public entity plaintiffs: More than 200.

¯ Number of litigation law firms: Six.

¯ Defendants named to date: Drug distributors Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, McKesson.