The Franklin County commissioners this morning adopted a resolution to hire outside legal counsel and join the ongoing nationwide lawsuits against manufacturers and drug distributors in response to the increasing number of opiate overdose deaths in Central Ohio. Specifically, the county will be engaging the services of Taft Stettinius and Hollister LLP to act as lead counsel as it files suit against the country’s largest manufacturers and wholesale drug distributers, including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corporation which together control more than 80% of the market for prescription opiates.
In 2016, drug overdoses killed 4,329 Ohioans, up by 24% over the year before. In the first half of 2017, Franklin County saw 268 overdose deaths, more than 80% of which are attributed to opiates.
“Opiates are costing lives, and billions of dollars in enforcement and treatment, costs which are being borne by the very communities that are ravaged by addiction and overdose,” said Board of Commissioners President, Kevin L. Boyce. “The action we’ve taken today is about accountability, and about developing strategies for the future that include resources and tactics to overcome this epidemic.”
In 2017, the commissioners and city officials commissioned the Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County to create a community-wide response plan for the Opiate crisis. The result of those efforts, called the Franklin County Opiate Action Plan calls for increased education, adequate supplies of naloxone, drug take-back efforts, and an addiction stabilization center that offers crisis intervention, detoxification, and intensive treatment for people who have experienced an overdose. The work is funded jointly by the county and city. The treatment facility opened last Friday on the south side of Columbus.
“Opiate abuse is a complicated problem, but for too long, drug manufacturers and distributors have profited as this crisis raged in our community,” said Commissioner Marilyn Brown. “We are acutely aware of the impacts on families, children, and critical services in our communities. We are joining this lawsuit because even as we work throughout the county to address the problem on the ground, we must also hold responsible those who should have helped to stop this crisis before it got this bad.”
In 1970, congress designed a system to control the volume of opiate pills distributed throughout the country in which only a few wholesalers may sell the drugs, in return for which, those wholesalers are supposed to halt suspicious orders and notify the Drug Enforcement Agency. The lawsuit being joined by Franklin County not only seeks to force the manufacturers and distributors to live up to their end of that bargain, but seeks damages in order to help combat the opiate addiction problem and provide for treatment and other services for those affected.
“Our entire community is a victim of opiates,” said Commissioner John O’Grady. “And we are working hard to rebuild lives and neighborhoods. We are also going to hold accountable the people who should have been helping to stem this tide of overdoses all along. We will be paying the costs of this crisis for many years to come.”
The consortium of law firms that includes Taft Stettinius and Hollister is also representing 30 other Ohio counties in this matter, as well as the Cities of Cincinnati, Portsmouth, and Lebanon.