By Howard T. Spence
CHARLOTTE, MI -- Counties and cities - like Eaton and Ingham counties, and the city of Lansing - expend tons of money each year out of their already stretched budgets to pay for treatment services for an ever-growing number of opioid and heroin addicts. People who become addicted are dying in ever-increasing numbers from drug overdoses. The public government budgets of our local cities and counties are especially hard hit with additional drug addiction related costs in areas of public safety or law enforcement, and also with costs realized in mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. (The New Citizen Press newspaper recently published a series of articles which addressed this opioid and heroin overdose epidemic. Those articles are archived online and available for review at www.tncp.net for interested readers.)
Counties, cities and local governments are trying to fight back to recover costs associated with this greatly increasing drain on local tax dollars. Much of the present drug overdose epidemic and its related costs can be traced back to a long-standing effort by many of the largest drug and pharmaceutical companies in our country to aggressively market “pain killers” and other opioid medications – clearly to a degree much greater than necessary to address real medical needs. These drug companies, in conjunction with some local doctors who “push” these opioid medications on unsuspecting patient “victims,” are to a very large degree responsible for much of the present heroin and opioid drug overdose epidemic which is threatening our nation and members of our communities to an unprecedented degree.
These opioid medications are extremely potent and addictive. Some patients who take some of these opioid drugs for as little as eight days are then effectively “hooked” or addicted to opioid pain killer drugs which may disrupt their lives for many years into the future – if they are lucky enough not to end up dead from overdosing. Many heroin addicts start down the path to addiction and possible overdose death from heroin by using prescribed pain killer medications.
Monday, November 6, 2017, at the Eaton County Health and Human Services Committee meeting there were presentations by two law firm consortiums or groups – both of which were trying to persuade Eaton County to retain them to represent them as a government plaintiff in a lawsuit against some of the largest drug and pharmaceutical industry firms in the United States. Those law firms are both among the numerous national law firms working feverishly to initiate lawsuits alleging mass torts by drug companies who have allegedly misrepresented the extremely addictive nature of the pharmaceutical products those companies produced, marketed and encouraged doctors to "overprescribe" all across this country, and certainly here in Michigan in Eaton and Ingham counties. Michigan had more submitted opioid drug prescriptions issued by doctors last year for pain than Michigan has residents!
There have been criminal prosecutions in Ingham county to convict and incarcerate doctors and others who are involved in “drug pill mill” operations, and some doctors who contributed to the addiction of our community members are now serving time here in Michigan. But so far local governments are left holding the bag.
The city of Lansing has already agreed to retain one of the two nationally known consortiums of law firms who solicited Eaton County government on November 6. Lawsuits seeking to recover potentially billions of dollars from these mega-pharmaceutical companies are already filed across the country – including here in Michigan. It is anticipated that soon those law suits will be consolidated into a couple of large lawsuits involving potentially hundreds of county and city plaintiffs. These law suits are potentially “very lucrative” for both the law firms and the plaintiffs they represent. The law suits starting to be filed now on behalf of counties and cities are similar in some ways to the “mass tort” litigations which arose on a national basis a couple of decades ago against the tobacco companies who were sued for pushing cigarettes upon our population. As the result of that “Big Tobacco” litigation, the state of Michigan alone received over three billion dollars.
One advantage to potential government entity plaintiffs like Eaton county is that it costs the county “nothing” to become a plaintiff in these law suits. Because the returns are potentially so great in this mass tort litigation, law firms are willing to be retained on a contingent fee basis only. The law firms assume all the cost risk of litigation which could rise to millions of dollars of legal services. If the law firms fail to win their cases, the law firms eat the costs and stand to lose millions of dollars with no recourse against the plaintiff client. Unlike in class action lawsuits, although these cases are consolidated, each plaintiff has their own individual case and stands a good chance to get significant reimbursement for costs and damages the governmental units can demonstrate they experienced addressing the opioid epidemic in their own jurisdictional area.
It likely will take years for any government plaintiff to receive any settlement or judgement dollars even if these lawsuits are successful, but if they are successful, probably the years of continued government expenses pertaining to the opioid epidemic will be included in that amount which could be ordered reimbursed.
Members of the law firm consortium retained by the city of Lansing included the Church Wyble PC Law firm based here in the Greater Lansing area, The Sam Bernstein law firm, and the national law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg. This consortium presented to the Eaton County Commissioners on Monday, November 6. The second firm presenting and soliciting to represent Eaton County then was the law firm of Sommers Schwartz which is based in Southfield, Michigan. These firms, along with many other prestigious law firms based across the state of Michigan and nation, are focused litigation law firms willing to invest potentially millions of dollars of their own money to prosecute the litigation against these large corporate drug and pharmaceutical companies.
Howard T. Spence, the author of this article, is Eaton County Commissioner representing residents of Delta Township, Michigan. The information and policy positions stated in this article are those of Commissioner Spence personally and do not necessarily represent the position of any other Eaton County Commissioner, Eaton County government, or of this newspaper or publisher.
Note: Howard Spence created a video that shares portions of the presentation on YouTube in an hour-long video. You can find it at http://bit.ly/2j9ubIr
November 12, 2017 - November 25, 2017 edition