Boone County will join a massive class-action lawsuit against some of the nation’s biggest drug companies in an attempt to recover some of the costs related to damages caused by the opioid epidemic.
Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill and commissioner Fred Parry on Thursday approved a resolution naming Eccher Law Group of St. Louis to represent the county in the class-action lawsuit. Currently pending in the U.S. Northern District Court of Ohio, the suit names as defendants Cardinal Health, Inc. Perdue Pahrma, Mallinckrodt, Johnson and Johnson, and multiple other drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy benefit managers.
“Defendants have caused an opioid epidemic that has resulted in economic, social and emotional damage to virtually every community in the United States and tens of thousands of Americans,” the complaint, originally filed by Webb County Texas, reads. “It is indiscriminate and ruthless. It has impacted across demographic lines harming every economic class, race, gender and age group. It is killing Americans — almost one hundred every day.”
The complaint continues that the defendants created the epidemic in a desire for profits and left public safety agencies to address the fallout. Atwill said Boone, like many counties and municipalities across the country, has been faced with numerous additional costs related to the epidemic, such as law enforcement and public health resources.
“As you know the state of Oklahoma recently settled a case somewhat like the case Boone County will have,” Atwill said. “I can’t tell you what the cost has been to the county. That will be calculated in connection with the pursuit of this. We know it is something, but it’s nothing compared to the loss of life and that’s the hard part of this.”
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reports 51 people have died of opioid overdose between 2013 and 2017 in Boone County. Statewide in 2017 there were 951 opioid related deaths, accounting for 1 in 65 deaths in the Missouri that year and one of the highest rates in the nation, attorney John Eccher said Thursday.
“The opioid crisis is one of the most serious crises to face this nation,” Eccher said in a telephone interview. “Missouri has been hit especially hard. Boone County residents have been facing the costs associated with that and we ant to recover based on what we believe is alleged wrongdoing by drug manufacturers and distributors who do this.
Eccher on Thursday said Boone County is of special interest to him personal, citing deep family ties to the area.
“I was born in Columbia,” Eccher said. “My father went to medical school there. I went to law school, I got my MBA there and I still have family in Boone County. That’s why Boone County is one of the counties I am so excited to try and start the healing process on behalf of. This one’s personal for me.”
There will be no cost to the county if plaintiffs lose the suit. If the plaintiffs win, Atwill said any award the county receives could go toward opioid education and other prevention programs to reduce the toll the drugs have taken on the county.
“We spend a lot of money on the health department and part of that goes to education,” Atwill said. “There is an educational element that will come in the future, so you have the possibility of funding to do that and I think Oklahoma has done that. Those kinds of things don’t come without expense.”
A trial date in the case is pending.