County suing opioid distributors


Jackson County plans to join scores of local and state government entities as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against opioid distributors with an eye toward recouping taxpayer dollars.

County commissioners voted 3-0 during a recent meeting to join the lawsuit, which will be litigated in the Northern District in Cleveland, Ohio.

The lawsuit alleges three distributors — McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen — did not regulate the number of opioids prescribed to local communities, which is required under federal regulations.

Commissioners discussed the issue briefly at the end of the meeting and suggested money from a settlement could be used to recoup costs associated with the opioid crisis. Some of those costs range from medical supplies for first responders to hiring additional employees.

“You have to look at the residual costs of everything we’re paying for as a result of the opioid epidemic,” Commissioners President Matt Reedy said, adding he also was concerned with how the crisis has affected the county jail, hospital, ambulance services and more. “We’re getting stiffed everywhere we turn around.”

The county foresees the need to expand the jail and has a committee looking into the matter, Reedy said. He said he thought the need to expand the jail could be tied to the costs of the opioid crisis.

The jail roster Friday morning was at 242, while capacity is 172, jail commander Charlie Murphy said.

Overcrowding 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. County attorney Susan 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.

The lawsuit alleges distributors violated the responsibilities laid out in the Controlled Substance Act. In 1970, Congress gave the responsibility to the distributors to monitor, identify and report suspicious activity in the size and frequency of opioid shipments to pharmacies and hospitals.

The three distributors named in the lawsuit have a combined annual revenue of more than $400 billion, according to financial data from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the first three quarters of 2016, 102,000 opioid prescriptions were written in Jackson County, according to data provided by Indiana District 44 Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford.

The county plans to retain Taft Law Firm in Indianapolis to handle the case. The firm represents about 60 percent of the plaintiffs, Bevers told commissioners.

The county will not incur expenses on the case and has agreed to a 30 percent contingency fee on a settlement or judgment. The firm will cover all expenses related to the case such as court costs and expert witness fees. The only cost the county will be responsible for is providing the firm with data to support the case.

Damages outlined by the firm include costs the county has incurred as a result of the opioid epidemic that has plagued nearly every community across the country.

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said the city council has not discussed the issue, but he plans to bring it up in January.

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