County lawsuit against drug makers, distributors pushes forward

By Tom Corrigan - [email protected]

The Board of Scioto County Commissioners last week approved a resolution authorizing attorneys representing the county along with numerous joint plaintiffs involved with civil litigation against various drug manufacturers to add defendants, amend allegations and add claims as counsel in the case sees fit.

“The lawsuit is evolving,” said Margaret Apel-Miller, an associate prosecutor in the Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office.

Filed in August 2017, the lawsuit attempts to hold various drug and pharmaceutical manufacturers responsible for the current opioid epidemic facing Scioto County and numerous other locations around the state.

During last week’s meeting, county commission chairperson Mike Crabtree spent a good bit of time talking about the drug problem in the county, in particular about how it has led to an acute need for foster homes who can cater to the children of addicts who have lost custody of their children.

Crabtree also talked about what he called an “ever-growing problem” at the Scioto County Jail. Because of drug-related arrests, Crabtree said the jail which used to have up to 100 extra beds is commonly now overflowing with 60 to 70 excess alleged offenders.

Although he fell far short of formally proposing or endorsing the idea, Crabtree mentioned the possibility of floating a tax levy to help deal with some of the opioid-related problems the county faces.

For her part, county Commissioner Cathy Coleman talked about an effort a while back to raise money to possibly build a foster home for children affected by the drug problem.

“There were some leaders in the community very interested,” Coleman said, adding money became an obvious issue.

“It’s a very big problem,” Coleman said of the opioid and addiction problem as a whole. “It’s just hard to wrap your brain around it.”

“The quickest route to failure in life is drug,” Crabtree added.

The opioid lawsuit is in the purview the top of the of U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio under Presiding Judge Dan Aaron Polster.

According to Apel-Miller, Polster last year put in place a gag order preventing anyone connected with the case from speaking with the media. The amount of information available pertaining to the case is therefore limited.

In an opinion and order released by Polster in July, the judge indicated the first public trial in the case would take place this month. Attorneys connected to the case did not return phone calls.

However, Mary Jordan Hughes, a law clerk for the Northern District of Ohio, told the Daily Times the first trial date open to the public, as of Jan. 25, is set for Oct. 21. Hughes stated there likely will be several settlement hearings held between now and the October trial date. However, those proceedings are not open to the public.

One recent opinion issued by Polster in mid-December was roundly applauded in other news media by the various plaintiffs’ attorneys involved in the multi-jurisdictional lawsuit.

Essentially, Polster ruled the lawsuit can move forward.

“While these allegations do not fit neatly into the legal theories chosen by plaintiffs,” Polster wrote near the end of his 39-page opinion, “they fit, nevertheless. Whether plaintiffs can prove any of these allegations remains to be seen, but this Court holds that they will have that opportunity.”

“The Court, thus having ruled on all of defendants’ motions to dismiss, orders defendants to file their answers to plaintiffs’ corrected second amended complaint… no later

than January 15, 2019,” Polster wrote in the very last line of his opinion.

According to a timetable ordered and released by Polster on Jan. 29, plaintiffs must begin this month to provide the names of expert witnesses and begin to set a timetable for the deposition of those witnesses. Polster ordered all trial materials are due Sept. 25. A final pretrial hearing was set for Oct. 15.

On its website, the District Court provides the following description of the case: “Plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers of prescription opioids grossly misrepresented the risks of long-term use of those drugs for persons with chronic pain, and distributors failed to properly monitor suspicious orders of those prescription drugs—all of which contributed to the current opioid epidemic.”

“In the suit, the city of Portsmouth alleges that three of the largest pharmaceutical distributors in the U.S. – Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson Corp. – each played a role in creating a public nuisance by failing to regulate orders of prescription opiates. The case was filed Aug. 16, in federal district court in the Southern District of Ohio,” a press release from the national law firm of Baron and Bud stated in 2017.

For whatever reason, the legal venue since has changed to the Northern District Court.

According to a Daily Times article in 2017, Baron and Budd have also filed similar lawsuits for Jackson, Ross, Vinton, Belmont Clermont and Brown counties.

“We represent close to 70 counties right now in what I describe as the epicenter of the opioid epidemic, and those are in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Southern Illinois,” Burton LeBlanc one of the lead attorneys on the case from Baron & Budd, told the Times in 2017. “In addition, we filed for the city of Cincinnati, the city of Birmingham, Ala., and we’re filing for Louisville, Ky.”

By Tom Corrigan

[email protected]