Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn commented on the opiate lawsuit, resulting from a resolution passed by Scioto County Commissioners declaring a public nuisance based on opiate abuse in the county. The case aims to target opiate distributors for their inability to follow federal guidelines requiring them to report medication distribution.
“There’s some language they used in that resolution that matches a statute we have here on file for public nuisance based on the Ohio Drug Control Act,” Kuhn explained.
The Ohio Drug Control Act created the concept that a public nuisance could be declared as a result of the distribution, sale or use of drugs.
“The Commissioners are arguing that opiate abuse has created a public nuisance in Scioto County. I think that if you read the paper, you can see that. Anyone who lives here would probably readily agree,” Kuhn commented.
He added that by the Commissioners declaring the public nuisance they have taken in the first step in a process towards recovering damages due to the County. They have also started the process of retaining attorneys to investigate any claims against distribution companies.
The Ohio Drug Control Act is aimed at abating public nuisances. To better explain, Kuhn stated that nearly 10 years ago, the County had several known drug houses. These were houses that had years of documented drug activity, resulting in numerous arrests over several years as well as several community complaints. Through the public nuisance legislation, the County was able to abate the problem by having these homes vacated and boarded up for a one year period and eventually foreclosed upon many.
“So what they are talking about here is the same theory,” Kuhn commented.
Through a similar statute, several cases have been filed in West Virginia. These are also focused specifically on distributors as opposed to manufacturers, doctors or pharmacies. With the cases much farther along, in West Virginia, attorneys have already been able to gather statistics showing the amount of narcotics that were being provided by distributors specifically.
“Federal law puts certain requirements on those distributors to try to minimize the chance of abuse,” Kuhn explained. “Even in the 60s, in a world without OxyContin, Congress knew that there was a great potential of abuse and the destruction of a community if you flooded it with too many illicit narcotics. And that was stuff that wasn’t nearly as potent as OxyContin was. When they created these drug distributors, they licensed them, they put requirements on them to make sure there was not too many narcotics being distributed to a community, regulated another step in the chain of supply, to try to prevent drug diversion. What we saw here is a perfect example.”
Cases against drug distributors argues that such entities did not follow federal regulations.
“Now, how do you abate a nuisance?” the Prosecutor questioned. “That’s a pretty broad concept. How do you put a monetary number on what has happened to people in this county?”
On the State level, the Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office is taking on another facet of the problem, going after the manufacturers, including manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma.
“I’m very happy Mike DeWine took that action,” Kuhn said. I talked to him several years ago about this. It was something that I thought was well worthy of the Attorney General’s attention, and I’m glad he went through with it.”
Kuhn went on to talk about the amount of damage done to Scioto County by manufacturers, speaking specifically of Purdue Pharma.
“To Purdue Pharma, I would say let me get the list of 1000 drug addicts we’ve prosecuted over the years. If they wanted names, I’d probably give them a 1000 of them,” Kuhn commented about the impact of one company. “Then, let’s talk to their parents that they stole from. Let’s talk to their grandparents that they stole from. Let’s talk to the survivors of murder victims that were killed over drugs. Let’s talk about these child abuse cases where parents are more interested in taking care of their drug fix than taking care of their own kids. If Pharma wanted names, I could give them thousands of names. That’s easy. But, the hard part is if you’re actually talking damages, if you can prove the nuisance, how do you abate it? How do you put a dollar figure on it?”
Kuhn says the latter will be difficult but not impossible.
“It may be a question of a lot of testimonials on how it’s impacted the community,” he added.
The process, which Kuhn says will likely take years, may even involve expert testimony, statistics from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and local figures.
“We can try to look at numbers including jail expenses,” Kuhn commented, explaining that the majority of the cost comes from equitable damages with some dollar figures that can also be included. “We opened a new jail in 2005, and it has remained full probably a vast majority of the days ever since. We could talk about the cost to the county, the cost to the city (the City of Portsmouth is also following suit).”
Kuhn further confirmed that the attorneys working with the County have experience in mass tort cases.
“What we’re starting on this is not a guaranteed thing,” Kuhn also stated. “Someone asked me how long I want this to take, and I said I don’t think I’ll be in office when all of this is done. I don’t think any of the commissioners will be in office. I think most of the office holders in the courthouse won’t be there. I think we’re talking years down the line. Now, maybe I will be surprised and six months down the road I walk into the courthouse, and they will tell me they have an offer to settle this, and they are going to start putting money towards abating this nuisance — education, treatment, children services, law enforcement. Try to bolster all of those where the people in this county have been paying that price for 10 years, 15 years.”
The prosecutor says he expects the case to take 20,000 to 30,000 attorney hours by the time it is settled. The next step is awaiting a more detailed statement of the nuisance from the county, who is still working on the contract with legal representation.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.
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