Fighting the opioid epidemic

Mohave County is seeking damages against Purdue Pharma and various other manufacturers and distributors of opioids for harm caused by the nationwide epidemic.

Mohave County is preparing to join a massive lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, joining more than 1,500 other governmental entities, Native American tribes, hospitals and plaintiffs from across the country, including several from Arizona.

The county filed suit in U.S. District Court for Arizona, seeking unspecified damages against Purdue Pharma and various other manufacturers and distributors of opioids for harm caused by the nationwide opioid epidemic. The lawsuit alleges that the opioid companies caused the epidemic by intentionally and recklessly promoting and marketing their drugs.

According to attorney Ron Kilgard, of the Phoenix law firm Keller Rohrback, which represents Mohave County in the case, the lawsuit will be folded into the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, a sprawling, multijurisdictional suit that was filed in the U.S. District Court for northern Ohio in late 2017.

Last month, Maricopa County joined that litigation after initially filing suit in Arizona. Prior to that, the Arizona Counties Insurance Pool, Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool, Arizona School Alliance for Workers Compensation Incorporated, Cochise County, City of Kingman, Navajo Nation, Northwest Arizona Employee Benefit Trust and City of Phoenix had all joined onto the litigation. The City of Prescott has also contacted Keller Rohrback about the litigation, Kilgard said.

Federal Judge Dan Polster in December rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss, giving the go-ahead for the historic case to move forward. Three “bellwether” cases filed by Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Summit County in Ohio are slated to go to trial first.

Mohave County has suffered negative consequences as a result of what it deemed the defendants’ “aggressive marketing scheme and excessive distribution of prescription opioids.” Of nearly 2,400 suspected opioid overdose deaths in Arizona from June 2017 to October 2018, 369 were in the county, the lawsuit argues. In 2016, the county had more opioid prescriptions than people, with 127.5 prescriptions for every 100 residents, which the lawsuits says is the highest rate in Arizona and twice the national average.

The lawsuit also attributed increased health care costs, insurance costs, incarcerations, court costs, unemployment and homelessness to the county’s opioid epidemic. Most of the 174-page complaint is identical to the lawsuits filed by other plaintiffs in the litigation.

Kilgard said it’s hard to say how long the litigation will last, and much will depend on whether the parties are willing to settle.

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