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Carbon plans to sue drugmakers

Published January 19. 2018 04:41PM

Slammed by spiraling cost of opioid addiction on the court and prison systems, Carbon County commissioners on Thursday took the first step toward suing drugmakers to recoup the expense.

They entered into an agreement with Marc J. Bern & Partners LLP, New York, New York.

The law firm, which also has an office in Conshohocken, Montgomery County, will represent the county in litigation to recover the costs.

The county will pay the firm 25 percent of the gross sum recovered.

“They are going to identify the appropriate defendants on the matter, they are also going to be working with the county to assemble and identify the costs incurred by the county and its agencies resulting from the opioid issues,” said county solicitor Daniel A. Miscavige.

“Once that information is assembled, we’re anticipating we’ll be filing litigation against the identified parties,” he said.

Why sue drugmakers?

Some pharmaceutical companies have allegedly engaged in profit-driven deceptive marketing to entice doctors into prescribing powerful narcotic painkillers that have drawn patients into addiction.

Suing the companies they believe are responsible for hooking people on opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, which has led to addiction to heroin, makes sense, said Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne E. Nothstein.

“It’s a huge, huge, expense to the county, not only at the prison, but in our court system our caseloads have been going up. Right now we’re looking at putting up another building because we’re out of office space,” he said.

“The district attorney’s office has been overloaded. The adult probation, public defender, children & youth, and even the (Area Agency on) Aging office to some extent has been hit by the costs of this, so we’re looking at legal action against some of the pharmaceutical companies,” Nothstein said.

Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard read aloud from the agreement, saying that more than 90 Americans die from overdoses every day.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement,” he said.

Commissioner William J. O’Gurek was absent from Thursday’s public meeting.

Turning to the courts

A growing number of counties have taken the litigation route to recoup the rising costs of the opioid crisis.

In signing the agreement, Carbon joins Luzerne, Dauphin, Fayette, Beaver, York, Delaware, Westmoreland, Philadelphia, Lackawanna, Cambria, Franklin, Allegheny, Greene, Wyoming, Erie, Washington and Lawrence counties in taking aim at pharmaceutical companies.

Of those, Marc J. Bern & Partners represents Beaver, Westmoreland, Lackawanna and Washington counties.

“We anticipate the list will grow,” said Douglas E. Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

CCAP has listed combating drug abuse as one of its 2018 priorities.

“We as an organization are working a different strategy, more in partnership with the Attorney General,” he said. “Under that, we’d end up a little more structured, like the tobacco settlement.”

Shapiro is part of a multistate investigation of the pharmaceutical industry and its involvement in the opioid crisis.

“We’re not recommending one way or the other as to whether counties should file individually,” Hill said.

The opioid crisis is a “significant issue for counties,” he said. “Counties provide drug and alcohol services, children and youth services, and sadly, our coroners’ offices handle the overdose deaths.”

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