By Dean Close, Editor
Benton County has joined nearly 1/3 of other Iowa counties, as well as dozens of other counties in Iowa and Illinois, in joining one of the latest of many federal lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, seeking compensation for funds the counties have spent because of opioid addiction and abuse issues.
The lawsuit alleges “aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that has led to a drug epidemic in the state and throughout the nation,” according to a press release from Simmons Hanly Conroy. Counties “seek relief in the complaint that includes compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars they spend each year to combat the public nuisance created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresents the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.”
The companies being sued include: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc..
Teva is based in Israel; Janssen is based in Belgium. Perdue Pharma is based in Connecticut; and Endo Pharmaceuticals and Caphalon, in Pennsylvania. Johnson& Johnson and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals (which is part of the Johnson& Johnson family) are based in New Jersey.
In addition, the lawsuit targets three doctors: Dr. Perry Fine; Dr. Scott Fishman and Dr. Lynn Webster.
Dr. Fine and Dr. Webster are from Utah. They have been named in several lawsuits. Dr. Webster, from California, who has served as President of the American Pain Foundation, has “long ties to the drug industry, according to a ProPublica story on opioid-related lawsuits.
The Benton County Supervisors voted to join the lawsuit after receiving a letter from Bill Peterson, Executive Director of the Iowa State Association of Counties.
Peterson, who said more than 30 counties have either adopted similar resolutions, or are in the process of doing so, offered the following advice to county officials:
“For those who have not considered this request, I want to share some important reasons for you to act. First and foremost, your action in joining this litigation will send a clear message to citizens in your county that you recognize this as a critical issue and that you are willing to act to protect members of your community. Second, your action in joining this litigation effort along with other counties in Iowa and counties in other states will help create a powerful force in changing the behaviors of those accountable for this crisis. Third, in the event of a damage award or settlement, you will have placed your county in position to recover those damages directly to the benefit of the citizens in your community. Those resources can be used for prevention and services to individuals who have been impacted. Fourth, the litigation team will be paid only if there is an award or settlement. You will have costs only associated with helping gather data used to identify your damages so there is little financial risk to your county for joining this effort.”
After all counties who plan to join the lawsuit have done so, says Peterson, lawyers from the law firms will begin working with officials in each county to tally the exact cost incurred because of opioid addiction-related problems. Those could include costs of health care, or housing inmates jailed while under the influence of opioids (as well as the medical costs of treating those prisoners) and other costs.
The county supervisors unanimously approved the following resolution on Dec. 26:
WHEREAS, Benton County (“County”) is concerned with the recent rapid rise in troubles among County citizens, residents, and visitors in relation to problems arising out of the use, abuse and overuse of opioid medications, which according to certain studies, impacts millions of people across the country; and
WHEREAS, issues and concerns surrounding opioid use, abuse and overuse by citizens, residents and visitors are not unique to County and are, in fact, issues and concerns shared by all other counties in Iowa and, for that matter, states and counties across the country, as has been well documented through various reports and publications, and is commonly referred to as the Opioid Epidemic (“Opioid Epidemic:); and
WHEREAS, the societal costs associated with the Opioid Epidemic are staggering and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, amount to over $75 billion annually; and
WHEREAS, the National Institute for Health has identified the manufacturers of certain of the opioid medications as being directly responsible for the rapid rise of the Opioid Epidemic by virtue of their aggressive and, according to some, unlawful and unethical marketing practices; and
WHEREAS, certain of the opioid manufacturers have faced civil and criminal liability for their actions that relate directly to the rise of the Opioid Epidemic; and
WHEREAS, County has spent money in unexpected and unbudgeted time and resources in its programs and services related to the Opioid Epidemic; and
WHEREAS, County is responsible for a multitude of programs and services, all of which require County to expend resources generated through state and federal aid, property tax levy, fees and other permissible revenue sources; and
WHEREAS, County’s provision of programs and services becomes more and more difficult every year because the costs associated with providing the Opioid Epidemic programs and services continue to rise, yet County’s ability to generate revenue is limited by strict levy limit caps and stagnant or declining state and federal aid to County; and
WHEREAS, all sums that County expends in addressing, combatting and otherwise dealing with the Opioid Epidemic are sums that cannot be used for other critical programs and services that County provides to County citizens, residents and visitors; and
WHEREAS, County has been informed that numerous counties and states across the country have filed or intend to file lawsuits against certain of the opioid manufacturers in an effort to force the persons and entities responsible for the Opioid Epidemic to assume financial responsibility for the costs associated with addressing, combatting and otherwise dealing with the Opioid Epidemic; and
WHEREAS, County has engaged in discussions with representatives of the law firms of Crueger Dickinson LLC, Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, and von Briesen & Roper, s.c., (the “Law Firms”) related to the potential for County to pursue certain legal claims against certain opioid manufacturers; and
WHEREAS, County has been informed that the Law Firms have the requisite skill, experience and wherewithal to prosecute legal claims against certain of the opioid manufacturers on behalf of public entities seeking to hold them responsible for the Opioid Epidemic; and
WHEREAS, the Law Firms have proposed that County engage the Law Firms to prosecute the aforementioned claims on a contingent fee basis whereby the Law Firms would not be compensated unless County receives a financial benefit as a result of the proposed claims and the Law Firms would advance all claim-related costs and expenses associated with the claims; and
WHEREAS, all of the costs and expenses associated with the claims against certain of the opioid manufacturers would be borne by the Law Firms; and
WHEREAS, the Law Firms have prepared an engagement letter, which is submitted as part of this Resolution (“Engagement Letter”) specifying the terms and conditions under which the Law Firms would provide legal services to County and otherwise consistent with the terms of this Resolution; and
WHEREAS, County is informed that the Iowa Counties Association has engaged in extensive discussions with the Law Firms and has expressed a desire to assist the Law Firms, County and other counties in the prosecution of claims against certain of the opioid manufacturers; and
WHEREAS, County would participate in the prosecution of the claim(s) contemplated in this Resolution and the Engagement Letter by providing information and materials to the Law Firms and, as appropriate, the Wisconsin Counties Association as needed; and
WHEREAS, County believes it to be in the best interest of County, its citizens, residents, visitors and taxpayers to join with other counties in and outside Wisconsin in pursuit of claims against certain of the opioid manufacturers, all upon the terms and conditions set forth in the Engagement Letter; and
WHEREAS, by pursuing the claims against certain of the opioid manufacturers, County is attempting to hold those persons and entities that had a significant role in the creation of the Opioid Epidemic responsible for the financial costs assumed by County and other public agencies across the country in dealing with the Opioid Epidemic.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:
County authorizes, and agrees to be bound by, the Engagement Letter and hereby directs the appropriate officer of the County to execute the Engagement Letter on behalf of the County; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:
County shall endeavor to faithfully perform all actions required of County in relation to the claims contemplated herein and in the Engagement Letter and hereby directs all County personnel to cooperate with and assist the Law Firms in relation thereto.
The County Clerk shall forward a copy of this Resolution, together with the signed Engagement Letter, to the Law Firms at Erin Dickinson, Crueger Dickinson LLC, 4532 N. Oakland Ave., Whitefish Bay, WI 53211.
Signed this 26th day of December, 2017.