County to pursue claims against drug companies

COLUMBIANA – Opioids have created an “ever growing crisis” locally and nationally, and Shelby County will pursue potential claims for damages against manufacturers and distributors of the drugs.

The Shelby County Commission approved at its meeting on Monday, March 12, a resolution for the employment of two law firms to pursue claims related to losses suffered by the county and its residents “as a result of the improper and/or illegal manufacture, distribution, marketing and selling of opioids.”

“We recognize we have overdose deaths,” County Manager Alex Dudchock said. “Our county is not immune to this crisis. We’re having families being affected.”

The crisis has been fueled by “illegal and improper marketing of opioids,” the resolution states. Dudchock said this would include pharmaceutical companies not giving full disclosure about the drugs’ effects or addictive properties to doctors, who then prescribed them.

The county wishes to protect residents from “deceptive and unfair marketing practices in the selling and prescribing of opioids, and to modify the behavior of the manufacturers and those distributing opioids illegally and recover a portion of the increasing monetary expenditures being made by Shelby County as it reacts to the ever growing opioid crisis and attempts to heal the broken lives of those left in its wake,” according to the resolution.

The county’s losses are related to prevention and treatment programs, medical services treating overdoses and death, and associated crime, the resolution states.

Extensive prevention and education programs are needed to combat the problem, Dudchock said.

“It will take an extended period of time to help folks,” he said.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced in February that the state had filed suit against companies that manufacture and sell several prescription opioid pain medications.

The suit claims that the company violated Alabama’s Deceptive Trace Practices Act in the marketing and sale of opioid drugs.

“Alabama ranks first in the nation for the number of painkiller prescriptions per capita,” Marshall said in a release. “As a result, it is estimated that almost 30,000 of our residents over age 17 are dependent upon heroin and prescription painkillers. Alabama’s drug overdose death rate skyrocketed by 82 percent from 2006 to 2014 and it is believed that many of those deaths were from opioid painkillers and heroin.”

Shelby County’s resolution follows several weeks’ worth of executive sessions called to discuss the issue, including one such session on March 12 before the Commission voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

The Commission will employ the Montgomery-based Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis and Miles P.C. and Columbiana-based Ellis, Head, Owens and Justice law firms, with compensation set at 27.5 percent of the net recovery after reimbursement of expenses.

Expenses will be reimbursed only if there is a recovery in favor of the county, according to the resolution.

Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis and Miles P.C. is one of the firms retained by Alabama in its lawsuit.

In other business, the Commission approved the re-appointment of John A. Jones to the Shelby County Board of Equalization for a term ending in June 2021, and the appointment of Jim Martin to the Board of Equalization to fulfill the unexpired term of Jim Latham ending June 2019.