March 17, 2018 10:06:22 PM
The Starkville Board of Aldermen will consider allowing the city to join as plaintiffs in litigation targeting opioid manufacturer and distribution companies when they meet on Tuesday.
The litigation, which is an item under the mayor's business portion of Tuesday's meeting agenda, came up for discussion during a Friday work session at city hall after law firm Smith, Bobinger and Smith approached the city about joining as a plaintiff.
Columbus attorney Corky Smith, speaking to The Dispatch, said the crux of the litigation is that opioid drug manufacturers didn't properly warn people about the dangers of their products. Those companies, he said were aware of the dangers -- especially in how addictive opioid medications can be.
"They used deceptive business practices to get a highly addictive product on the market that they knew would get customers for life, but didn't tell them about the dangers of the product," Smith said. "You can't have someone make informed consent on a product if they don't know the dangers they can cause. If you've known the dangers, you've got a duty to tell people. Everything stems from there."
Smith said multiple companies all over the country are defendants in the litigation, including Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the original version of OxyContin.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said Smith, Bobinger and Smith were the first firm to approach the city about joining the litigation, though several firms have unsuccessfully approached the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors with similar requests.
"They were asking us to join the opioid litigation," she said. "There's nothing required of us, other than to agree to be one of the plaintiffs."
Opioids are a class of drug with the primary purpose of reducing pain. Legal opioids can be prescribed by medical providers and include drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine and fentanyl. Illegal opioids include drugs like heroin and variants of fentanyl and other synthetic substances.
Smith said the group has already entered into contracts with Columbus, George County and Green County, and is awaiting considerations from several additional entities.
He said the suit would be part of a multi-district litigation case, which means it will be compiled with similar cases from across the country in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio. He said that will allow a consistent decision on the cases, rather than courts across the United States rendering different decisions on different cases.
The case, Smith said, will target the manufacturing and distribution companies that control the flow of opioids, and not pharmacies and doctors.
"It's not local doctors," he said. "It's not local pharmacies. In fact, a lot of the times, the doctors and pharmacies were, for lack of a better term, duped the same way the public was."
Smith said claims can vary from entity to entity, depending on their unique situation, and it will take time to determine the potential for damages in Starkville. However, he said there are likely to be some commonalities for cities and counties, such as increased law enforcement costs.
"A lot of the costs are recognizable through different levels of damages," he said. "You have increased police costs, increased court costs. You've got a number of programs that are publicly funded that help treat or respond to things as a result of this crisis."
Spruill compared the opioid litigation to litigation against tobacco companies that generated billions of dollars in settlement money.
City attorney Chris Latimer, speaking during Friday's work session said joining may be worth considering.
"It's worth a shot," he said. "I can't say there's any kind of guaranteed potential for recovery, but it's just, as the mayor said, the cigarette litigation -- we didn't know if that was going to go anywhere or not and it ended up being a really big deal."
Latimer said the city wouldn't take on any expenses, in the event to joining the litigation. If the litigation doesn't generate any recovery, the city wouldn't have to pay any fees, and if the recovery is less than expenses for the suit, the city wouldn't owe any fees.
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