NEWPORT — The Sullivan County Board of Commissioners has opened talks on whether to join a nationwide lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
If the commissioners sign on, the county will join several communities across the state in the lawsuit.
In 2017, the state saw nearly 480 deaths directly linked to opioids, leading to an overdose death rate nearly three times greater than the national average. The lawsuit aims to recuperate taxpayer money used in providing treatment or mitigating effects of the opioid epidemic.
“These manufacturers lied through their teeth,” trial attorney Robert Bonsignore said. “They created an epidemic to turn a profit.”
Bonsignore approached the board Monday to field questions about the case. Within the next week, he said he would file the lawsuit in Concord, before the case eventually goes to a court in Cleveland to join similar lawsuits from other states. His resume includes successful lawsuits against Walmart and the tobacco industry.
Already, he said, commissioners from Stafford, Belknap and Rockingham counties have agreed to join the lawsuit. Carroll County commissioners have bowed out of the talks.
According to his 291-page complaint, members of the opioid industry are responsible for misleading physicians into overprescribing a highly addictive class of drugs. As rates of opioid addiction have shot up across the country since the turn of the century, the costs on taxpayers to handle the situation have become a financial drain on communities, he said. The Centers for Disease Control attribute $55.7 billion annually to national loss of productivity, health care and criminal justice costs as a result.
“The focus of this case is taxpayer recuperation,” Bonsignore said.
The cost for counties and municipalities to sign on is essentially free aside from any money spent analyzing the cost of the opioid services. Bonsignore said he expects the case to come to trial by early 2019 unless it is settled beforehand. If opioid manufacturers and distributors end up paying out, all plaintiffs in the lawsuit will be entitled to some compensation – although an allocation formula has not yet been determined.
Sullivan County Board of Corrections Superintendent David Berry said that it will not be difficult for staff from the jail to tabulate costs of providing opioid treatment. Although various non-governmental organizations have played a large role in addressing the opioid epidemic, they will not be eligible to join the lawsuit.