Login | January 21, 2019

Summit, Trumbull counties sue over opioids

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 12, 2018

Summit and Trumbull counties are among about a dozen counties and the state of Ohio suing pharmaceutical industry manufacturers and distributors over the opioid crisis, both jurisdictions announced. Both counties filed their respective lawsuits right before Christmas.

“This holiday season, too many children are without their parents, too many mothers and fathers are without their sons and daughters and many, many others are desperately struggling to get their lives back on track,” said Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro in a statement. “All of these heart-wrenching stories originate at the hands of opioid manufactures and distributors.”

Summit County was joined by 21 county communities, including Akron, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls and Stow. Both suits were filed in each county’s respective common pleas courts. Both counties have engaged outside counsel.

Summit County lists 13 named defendants and up to 50 John and Jane Does in its 140-page complaint.

Trumbull County’s complaint is 270 pages long. Both list numerous specific instances and statistics to accuse the defendants of creating the crisis through a series of decisions based on “corporate greed”—decisions that have allegedly cost communities lives, money and social stability.

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a trade group representing some of the defendants released a statement saying that, while they recognize the negative impact that the opioid crisis has had on communities, they were not “willing to be scapegoats. Distributors are logistics companies” that distribute, transmit and store these drugs based on physicians’ prescriptions.

The Trumbull County lawsuit spoke to this issue by alleging that “the defendants knew or should have known that they were supplying vast amounts of dangerous drugs. The defendants were in a unique position and had a duty to inspect, report, or otherwise limit” the drugs.

The various counties who have filed these lawsuits so far are not engaged in a coordinated effort, and have not broached the idea of consolidating their cases, said Greta Johnson, the deputy law director for Summit County who is running point on the lawsuit for the county.

“We felt it was important to bring together our communities and differentiate our particular damages,” she said.

Outside counsel for Summit County are South Carolina-based firm Motley Rice LLC as lead and Akron’s Brennan, Manna and Diamond LLC as local counsel.

Trumbull County has engaged four outside firms led by Cleveland’s Plevin & Gallucci. That firm also represents Cuyahoga County in a similar suit.

Johnson said that Motley Rice was chosen because of their vast experience in suing large companies on behalf of communities, including their involvement in tobacco litigation.

The firm is working on a 25 percent contingency basis.

“It was important to us that the communities had no up-front expenses,” she said.

The Trumbull County outside counsel is also working for a contingent fee, according to reports.

The suits are being driven by very specific community costs, said Faylin Mutch, spokesperson for Summit County.

Among many telling statistics supplied by Mutch, Summit County has spent an estimated $112 million in taxpayer funds in the last five years dealing with drug issues and opiates, and is projecting more than $150 million in similar expenses for the next five years.

Experts estimate that four out of five heroin addicts start their addiction with prescription painkillers abuse, a theory that connects drug companies to the community costs of illegal drug problems.

Beyond the financial impact, Summit County experienced nearly 400 accidental overdoses in the last four months of 2017, as well as more than 7,000 overdoses and over 1,000 deaths since 2012.

The problem continues to get worse, as more people died from overdoses in 2016 and 2017 than in the entire previous decade.

All of those problems affect the families involved.

Summit County Children’s Services estimates that $15 million will be spent placing children into homes other than their parents because of the crisis—a figure that is up 22 percent since 2012.

Trumbull County’s suit alleges that the defendants had for years changed the industry approach toward opioids from drugs that were used in severe cases of pain to drugs that were used more commonly, and therefore sold in greater quantities. The more drugs were made, the more they showed up on the streets.

Trumbull County as well alleged that the opioid crisis has increased 911 calls, overdose deaths and intervention by Children’s Services.

Although numerous lawsuits of this type are being filed across the state and country, nobody expects quick resolution, said Johnson.

“None of these cases has been settled yet,” she said.