County hasn’t lost its resolve in opioid lawsuit

Committee votes not to opt out legal action that blames pharmaceutical companies for addiction epidemic
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

The Ozaukee County Executive Committee voted unanimously Monday to not opt out of a class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that make and market drugs blamed for the opioid addiction epidemic. 

The vote came after the County Board was advised that dozens of Wisconsin counties who are part of the lawsuit must vote to opt out or remain part of the “negotiation class,” which was formed to negotiate a settlement with the companies.

The county originally voted to participate in the lawsuit in December 2017.

If the county were to opt out, they could negotiate a resolution individually.

By remaining a part of the group, the county would have a right to vote on any settlement proposal, which would require 75% approval of the participating counties.

“We’ve come this far; it would be foolish to opt out now,” County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt said.

The lawsuit, which 71 of 72 Wisconsin counties have joined, seeks to hold large pharmaceutical companies responsible for the epidemic that is sapping local, state and federal agencies tasked with battling drug dealers and who help those who suffer from addiction.

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine, as well as illegal drugs like heroin.

Law firms representing the counties are bearing all costs of litigation and will be reimbursed only if there is a judgment in the counties’ favor.

The only cost to the county is the staff time needed to help lawyers document the cost of dealing with opioid addiction, which in addition to assisting with the lawsuit will help illustrate the extent and impact of the local addiction epidemic.

The goal of the lawsuit is to “hold Pharma responsible for their role in creating the opioid epidemic and return to the counties the money spent battling the epidemic at the expense of other critical programming,” according to county documents.

Officials say opioid addiction is not only responsible for an increase in drug crimes but a surge in property crimes committed by those who steal to finance their addiction and takes a tremendous toll on families and children.

Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, reached a tentative multi-billion dollar deal in September to settle an Ohio-based lawsuit involving more than 2,000 local governments from 23 states. Wisconsin, which is involved in that lawsuit, has not agreed to a settlement yet.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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