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October 3, 2017 - 12:53pm

County to join legal fight against pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis

posted by Howard B. Owens in opioids, news, notify.

Genesee County will join the trend of local governments suing pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic in an attempt to recover costs related to treating and dealing with addiction.

County Attorney Kevin Earl has recommended the Legislature sign a contract with the law firm of Napoli Shkolnik, which is based in New York City.

Earl interviewed two law firms and following negotiations selected Napoli as the best option, primarily because the financial terms were more favorable to the county.

Napoli agreed to cap their costs at 25 percent of any settlement (instead of a sliding scale that went up to 40 percent) for both the initial lawsuit and any appeals.

"Both of them would advance all of the costs of litigation," Earl said. "Also both of them we would say if they don't win, the county doesn't have to reimburse them for any of the cost and expenses. So, the county doesn't have to upfront anything or reimburse them. The only cost to the county would be some time obviously. The law firms are going to have to have information about our different costs and expenditures."

Many of the costs to the county are on the social services side, Earl said, especially dealing with parents who have become addicted.

"They're (social service workers) finding a great deal of their time and effort on trying to, first of all, rehabilitate parents because of the drug problem and then terminating parental rights when it becomes necessary. So that's that's a big cost."

In these lawsuits, being filed by municipal governments around the nation, pharmaceutical companies are being accused of flooding the market with prescription pain pills, using deceptive means to promote pain medication to doctors, and misrepresenting the addictive power of the medications, spurring an opioid epidemic that has led to the spread of heroin in local communities.

A total of 19 pharmaceutical companies have been targeted by these lawsuits.

Earl was also able to negotiate away a term in the contract that could have stuck the county with expenses related to the law firm borrowing money to proceed with the suit.

"They had something in there that if they had to borrow money we have got to pay the interest on the borrowed money," Earl said. "I said well the whole reason we got you was we thought you were a big firm and you have the money. I couldn't handle the lawsuit when I was a sole practitioner of a case like this because I couldn't advance that type of money, so they took that out completely."

While the suit on behalf of Genesee County should be filed within months, if not weeks, Earl expects the suit, on a motion by the pharmaceutical companies, will be consolidated with other similar lawsuits. In a way, at that point, Genesee County will benefit from the expertise and experience of both the big law firms handling these cases.

Even so, it will be a long time before the county sees any money from a settlement (assuming victory).

"It's going to probably be a long process," Earl said. "I look at this as similar to the tobacco cases. You know these pharmaceutical companies are going to fight tooth and nail, and they know if they settle in New York that opens the floodgates and then another state and another state and another state, so I would imagine this will take a number of years."

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