GREENVILLE — The Darke County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Wednesday afternoon stating the county intends to pursue a civil complaint against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opiates.
Darke County is filing its suit against five of the largest manufacturers of prescription opioids and their related companies and against the country’s three largest wholesale drug distributors.
The manufacturing companies pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction, while the distributors breached their legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids.
“We three commissioners have decided that we need to stand up and fight this drug problem,” Commissioner Mike Rhoades said. “This is something that we, as responsible leaders of the community, need to do.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2016, unintentional drug overdoses caused the deaths of 4,050 Ohio residents, a 32.8 percent increase compared to 2015.
The opioid epidemic has grown worse as people who were addicted to prescription pills have, thanks to heightened enforcement efforts, found them harder to acquire. However, the residents of Darke County continue to bear the burden of the cost of the epidemic, as the costs of treatment for addiction, education and law enforcement have continued to rise. According to a federal study, roughly 1 in 7 people who received a refill or had a second opioid prescription authorized were still on opioids one year later.
More than 20 Ohio counties have resolved to take similar action, according to Rhoades, and he seemed confident that others would do the same.
“I’m sure other counties are going to follow suit,” Rhoades said.
The manufacturers listed as defendants in the lawsuit include:
- Perdue Pharma, which sold OxyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid, Butrans, Hysingla and Targiniq
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, which sold Actiq and Fentora
- Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which sold Duragesic and Nucynta
- Endo Health Solutions, which sold Opana, Percodan, Percocet and Zydone
- Allergan, Activis and Watson Pharmaceuticals, which sold Kadian, Norco, and generic versions of several opioids
The wholesale drug distributors listed as defendants in the lawsuit include:
- Cardinal Health
- AmerisourceBergen Drug
Motivation for this legal action, according to Rhoades, came in part from various community agencies that have approached the county commission about helping fight the drug problem.
“The chamber of commerce, hospital, health department, and others kept coming to us and saying, ‘what can you do to help us push back against this?’” Rhoades said. “But it was always that we didn’t have the financing. We need help, financially, to deal with this.”
Rhoades said that, in previous such proceedings, drug manufacturers have shown an inclination to settle out of court, and that the law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey and Tweel, whom the commission has retained as special counsel to help pursue the litigation, will not charge the county any fee unless a settlement is reached.
And money from that settlement could go toward any number of potential uses, according to Rhoades, including funding for Tri-County Mental Health’s planned substance abuse treatment facility at the site of the former County Home; funding to offset the cost of the county sheriff having to pay to house inmates at other jails; and funding for Children’s Services, which has also been hard-hit by the opioid crisis.
“We’re picking these parents up, and then who takes care of the kids?” Rhoades said.
However, he stressed that this move is much more than a cash grab.
“We’re taking a stance – we’re saying, ‘We’ve had enough,’” Rhoades said. “Ultimately, you have to go to the root of all evil and ask, where are these guys getting the pills? If we can stem the flow of these drugs, or even stop it altogether, that’s a good thing for everybody.”