GIRARD — As an opioid abuse epidemic has swept the United States and beyond in recent years, thousands of city and county governments have filed lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies that produce the addictive painkillers.
In May 2018, Crawford County joined the legal battle against dozens of drug manufacturers, including major brand names such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, which first started in West Virginia.
Pittsburg attorney Pat Smith attended Friday’s Crawford County Commission meeting to give the commissioners an update on the status of the county’s lawsuit seeking compensation for expenses related to the opioid epidemic and dealing with people who have developed prescription painkiller abuse problems.
“It’s not so much individuals but from the county’s perspective increased budgets, spending because of problems anywhere from extra law enforcement to drug treatment facilities to purchasing extra Narcan [an overdose reversal drug] or other medications,” Smith said. “We see it in court systems, we see it with juveniles, crime, so it’s had an impact on these counties.”
Although details of the lawsuit that would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship were discussed in a closed executive session with commissioners, Smith also addressed aspects of the case that he could talk about publicly in an interview beforehand.
“There’s a willingness to settle, the problem is there’s so many moving parts,” he said. “I believe it will be settled but the issue is these guys [the pharmaceutical companies] want to — if they’re going to pay billions and billions of dollars, they want to buy their peace. They don’t want to pay that kind of money and still be fighting other lawsuits. So they’re trying to get a way to get everybody at the table.”
One concern Crawford County commissioners have previously noted is that the State of Kansas might try to collect the settlement money on behalf of individual counties and cities. The state would then in theory distribute those funds to help pay local governments’ expenses related to the opioid epidemic, but county officials have expressed skepticism that the money would be fairly allocated.
“There’s that tension,” Smith said. “This isn’t unlike the tobacco litigation, and there most of the coverage made it to the state level and was supposed to trickle down, and that really didn’t happen for the most part.”
Smith said he could not talk about specific dollar amounts currently being discussed to settle the nearly 3,000 lawsuits filed by various governmental entities. It was reported earlier this month, however, that more than 20 states were rejecting an $18 billion settlement offer from three major pharma companies. $48 billion is another number that was reported last year as having been proposed by four states to settle their cases. Smith said he wouldn’t be able to give Crawford County commissioners an expected date for an end to the negotiations this week.
“I can certainly say that a settlement’s not imminent,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. Eventually these cases are either going to go to trial or they’re going to settle or they’re going to go to bankruptcy, which some of them already are doing.”