Osceola County joins federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies

(Background, left to right) Osceola County Commissioners Alan Tiedt, Pam Wayne and Roger Elkins listen to Tim Smith (foreground), of Smith and Johnson Attorneys, discuss the premise of a federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of opioids during the Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday morning. Commissioners approved retaining law firms on a contingent-fee basis to begin the process of the county’s own lawsuit with hopes to recover some funds the county has spent combating the opioid epidemic. (Pioneer photo/Brandon Fountain)

REED CITY – The opioid epidemic that has swept across the United States continues to have an impact on Osceola County.

Hoping to recover funds the county has spent to prevent, fight and provide addiction, legal and other services for residents as part of the opioid epidemic, officials approved a measure to join a growing federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies.

During their Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday morning, commissioners voted 5-2 to join a multi-district litigation (MDL) suit against dozens of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, with Commissioners Mark Gregory and Pam Wayne opposing.

The county will retain firms Weitz and Luxenberg, Sam Bernstein Law Firm and Smith and Johnson Attorneys, and fees will only be assessed based on any damages awarded or agreed.

Prior to the vote, attorney Tim Smith, of Smith and Johnson Attorneys, spoke to commissioners about the process.

He explained the differences between a class-action lawsuit and the current federal suit, which is classified as multi-district litigation, a legal procedure which consolidates complex cases. In a class-action lawsuit, plaintiffs are grouped together in the complaint. If successful, any awards are divided among the plaintiffs. An MDL provides each plaintiff to file its own lawsuit against named defendants.

“This is not a class-action lawsuit. In September, 42 cases across the country that had filed petitions to the multi-district litigation panel, a panel of judges, asked to have them join in a singular court for efficiency and judicial economy,” he said. “There are now over 200 cases. The thought is: There doesn’t need to be 200 courts deciding on 200 cases 200 different ways.”

The premise of the suit, Smith said, is based on the efforts of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors — Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Cardinal Health and McKesson, among others — to mislead doctors about the addictive nature of the prescription pain medication and when the drug should be prescribed by doctors.

The panel agreed to combine the cases, and Smith said Judge Dan Polster in northern Ohio will be handling all of the pre-trial motions and issues.

“He’s the perfect judge for this,” he said. “He graduated from Harvard Law, served as a U.S. Attorney over economic crimes and that’s what this case to me is about: The manufacturers and distributors of these drugs harmed municipalities throughout Michigan and across the country.”

He added there are two components of the suit:

• The MDL is requesting damages for funds spent over the years on such things as EMS, addiction treatment, child protective services, medical examiner services, first responders, sheriff’s department etc.; and

• Requesting any potential settlement to include a court order requiring the manufacturers and distributors to do business as directed by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, which many of them have already investigated or fined named defendants in the suits over the last decade, Smith said.

“If there are court orders on ways they are supposed to conduct business and ignore it again, they can’t write a check to get out of it,” he said. “If they have to face criminal contempt charges, I think, if the suit is successful, will change the way they do business.”

Upon retainer, Smith said Osceola County would have its own lawsuit filed in federal court, and would then have a team of paralegals and experts who would model the costs for the county.

“Your county has control over that lawsuit – where it heads, and more importantly, how it is resolved,” he said. “If successful, this would be a contingent-fee litigation. … We will advance all litigation, and you will get a copy of how everything was spent and the costs associated with the individual suit through the litigation process.”

The county will not be charged if the lawsuit is not successful. Smith said 70 percent of the net balance of any successful funds awarded or agreed to would go straight to the county.

Gregory and Wayne disagreed with how the suit focuses solely on manufacturers and distributors of the addictive drugs.

“Your lawsuit is directed at pharmaceutical companies,” Gregory said. “They are who makes the products available. The doctors are the ones writing prescriptions.”

Smith replied, “The doctors were misled by manufacturers. They were told they were safe, told they were not addictive. They were just following the information they were told.”

“They know that now, so it’s the doctors’ fault,” Wayne added. “I’m personally affected by this, and it’s on the doctors.

“At this point in time, the doctors have to be more educated on this. It’s their responsibility. They’re the ones prescribing these drugs.”

Gregory added, “The doctors still hold some responsibility for this. It’s their responsibility to know what they are prescribing, irregardless of what they are being told by distributors and manufacturers. They need to qualify what they’re giving to their patients and need to know that it’s not going to be addictive.”

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

One comment on “Osceola County joins federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies

  1. avatarRCSportsfan

    Why are they trying to extort money from the pharmaceutical companies. They only manufactured a product approved by the Federal Drug Administration and prescribed by the medical profession.. We have become a nation of “sue happy” crackpots looking for a free buck and refuse to accept the fact that the fault lies 100% in the lap of the typical American consumer

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