Opioid lawsuit is ill-advised, county should not join

Washington County should not join the lawsuit against pharmaceutical opioid manufacturers and distributors. It is based on false premises that (1) opioids provided by these specific suppliers caused additional county expenses of law enforcement, jails, foster care, and medical and coroner services; and (2) the lawsuit will reimburse county taxpayers for these expenses.

Pharmaceutical opioids are strong medicine that is highly regulated and prescribed accordingly. If a person needs a prescription for an opioid but does not have access to medical care or if the need for relief continues after the prescription ends, that person may seek relief by other means, such as over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol, or a prescription by another doctor. If opioid dependence or addiction occurs due to drug abuse, inadequate regulation, or medical malpractice, these suppliers are not responsible for it. They are providing a public service of temporary relief, not a cure. Corporate resources expended to defend against this lawsuit would be better spent on research to create new, non-addictive, and accessible means of relief and a cure.

These additional county expenses are being caused by a myriad of reasons. Our county is experiencing a mental health and addiction crisis, not just an opioid crisis. County agencies would need to determine how much of the additional expenses can be attributed to pharmaceutical opioids from these specific suppliers in order to estimate and prove damages caused by the suppliers. Substantial county staff resources may be required to develop a convincing rationale and methodology to determine damages. These staff resources would be better spent providing direct services to county residents.

After deducting attorney fees, expert witness fees, court costs, and other expenses from any moneys recovered in the litigation, county taxpayers might get reimbursement for some additional expenses attributable to the opioid crisis. But the suppliers would likely raise prices and pass their litigation costs along to consumers. What appears to be reimbursement of county taxpayers would likely become a tax increase by another means, namely, higher costs for medicine. The winners would be the lawyers, expert witnesses, and other participants in the litigation. The losers would be county consumers of medical care.

James L. Raney