Dunn County joins lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  The statistics are staggering.

According to a New York Times article, drug overdoses in the United States, mostly related to opioids, killed 64,000 people last year and are the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50.

How did we get to the point where opioid pain killers, such as morphine, are so widely available that people are dying of overdoses in record numbers?

[emember_protected] In response to the opioid epidemic, the Dunn County Board approved a resolution at the November 14 meeting joining the Wisconsin Counties Association and other counties in Wisconsin in the pursuit of legal claims against opioid manufacturers.

Quoting information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the resolution notes that the societal cost of the opioid epidemic is $75 billion per year.

The National Institute for Health has identified the manufacturers of opioid medications as being directly responsible for the rise of the opioid epidemic by their aggressive, and reportedly, unlawful and unethical marketing practices.

News reports have indicated, for example, that manufacturers of opioid drugs marketed them initially as being “non-addictive,” and because they supposedly did not cause addiction, doctors felt comfortable prescribing them.

The resolution states “Dunn County has expended significant time and resources in its programs and services related to the Opioid Epidemic.”

The resolution also notes Dunn County provides a multitude of programs and services, and continuing to provide those programs and services becomes more difficult every year because of costs associated with providing programs and services for the Opioid Epidemic.

The costs for programs and services continue to rise while at the same there is declining federal and state aid, and the county’s ability to generate more revenue is limited by strict state-imposed levy limits, according to the resolution.

Dunn County has engaged in discussions with representatives of the law firms of Von Briesen & Roper S.C, Crueger Dickinson LLC and Simmons Hanley Conroy LLC related to the potential for Dunn County to pursue certain legal claims against certain opioid manufacturers. All of the costs and expenses associated with the claims against opioid manufacturers would be borne by the law firms, the resolution states.

Dunn County will be joining other counties inside and outside of Wisconsin in pursuit of claims against the opioid manufacturers.

By approving the resolution, the Dunn County Board authorized the corporation counsel to negotiate, and the chair of the Dunn County Board to execute, an engagement letter with the law firms on behalf of Dunn County.

Although there will be no direct fiscal impact to Dunn County for filing the lawsuit, county staff will be involved in compiling records and information in support of the lawsuit.

The potential for monetary recovery and injunctive relief could result in future savings for Dunn County in programs and services. [/emember_protected]