Seymour City Council has agreed to join a growing list of cities, towns, counties and states in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors blaming them for the opioid crisis communities have been battling for the past few years.
The decision came at the end of Monday’s council meeting after Mayor Craig Luedeman brought up the matter under miscellaneous issues.
City attorney Rodney Farrow said the opioid crisis is affecting every level of government, and he recommended the city join the suit.
If successful, the city could recoup money it has paid police officers and firefighters for overtime in dealing with opioid-related arrests and overdoses, Farrow said.
But it will be up to the courts to determine how any money awarded is to be spent, he said.
It also could help the city pay for the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone or Narcan in the future, Farrow said. Currently, the city receives naloxone free from Overdose Lifeline Inc., but the state grant that is paying for it will run out.
“If the city wants to continue to have Narcan available to officers and first responders, they’re going to have to buy it, so it’s going to cost more and more money,” Farrow said.
Farrow and Luedeman said they don’t expect a payout any time soon if there is one.
“This is a long-term project,” Farrow said.
“If it does happen, it won’t be quickly,” Luedeman added.
As a voting member of the city’s board of public works and safety, Luedeman said that board recommended at its Dec. 28 meeting that the council get involved in the lawsuits along with the Jackson County Commissioners.
County Commissioner Bob Gillaspy attended Monday’s city council meeting. Commissioners expressed their willingness to be a part of the lawsuits in December, and Jennings County filed suit Monday.
Farrow said the Brownstown Town Council, which he also represents, is interested in joining in the lawsuits, too.
The 164-page document is under review by county attorney Susan Bevers. She expects the suit, which contains data specific to Jackson County, to be filed by Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP in federal court sometime this week.
Farrow said it won’t cost any money for Seymour and Brownstown to join the lawsuits.
“There would be no upfront costs,” Farrow told the Brownstown Town Council. “The fees would be collected by (Taft, Stettinius & Hollister) at the tail end if they collect anything based on 30 percent contingency.”
The Brownstown Police Department has had officers involved in overdose death investigations, Chief Tom Hanner said. Officers also have worked with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office in opioid-related cases.
The department also recently received a stock of naloxone, and officers were trained to administer it, but all of that was free thanks to the Jackson County Health Department receiving a grant to distribute naloxone.
Brownstown has 30 doses, and fortunately, Hanner said no officers have had to administer it yet.
“We could get hit with one weekend where the potential to go through those in a weekend could happen,” he said. “We haven’t had to administer it yet, but we know that day’s going to come.”
Hanner also said he realizes there could be a time when naloxone isn’t free.
Brownstown Town Councilman Gregg Goshorn asked Farrow if there is a deadline to join the lawsuits.
“No, but obviously the sooner, the better,” Farrow said. “The sooner you get your hat in the ring, the better off you’re going to be.”
Councilman Gary Drake asked Farrow’s opinion on the town getting involved.
“You might as well join up and see what happens, roll the dice, I guess,” he said.
Farrow said he would share the letter of agreement and other paperwork with the council members so they could review everything and make a decision.
At the time commissioners decided to join the lawsuit, President Matt Reedy said the county foresees the need to expand the jail and has a committee looking into the matter.
He said he thought the need to expand the jail could be tied to the costs of the opioid crisis.
The jail roster Tuesday morning was at 242, while capacity is 172.
Overcrowding at the jail has led to a 7 percent increase in the county’s liability insurance premiums because of the risks involved, representatives from Beatty Insurance said during a proposal to the county for 2018 insurance costs.
Three percent of the increase was due to property values going up, county human resources director Jeff Hubbard said, but the remainder was due to the risk of overcrowding at the jail.
Overcrowding at the jail is not the only issue affected.
Bevers said the county has expanded the prosecutor’s office from four prosecutors to seven over the last few years.
“We have significantly increased that because we just have more criminal activity,” she said. “A lot of that is due to the opioid issue.”
Reedy said he also hopes the lawsuit could stop the flow of opioids into Jackson County.
“Or if we could slow them down considerably, I’m all in favor of the lawsuit,” Reedy said.