County joining class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Coryell County is joining more than a dozen other Texas counties being represented in class-action lawsuits against various pharmaceutical companies that produce and distribute opioids, after the Commissioners’ Court meeting held Monday morning.
The commissioners approved Coryell County Resolution No. 2017-14 which gave approval for bringing a class-action suit on behalf of Coryell County against various drug manufacturers, developers, suppliers and others of pharmaceutical drugs known as opioids and approval of a professional services agreement for special counsel.
The county will be represented by major litigators Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, based in Dallas, who will be working with lawyers from Cappolino, Dodd and Krebbs of Cameron and Temple, on a contingency fee structure basis, with no additional cost to the county.
The companies which the claims will be made against include but are not limited to Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson.
Craig Brown and Valerie Farwell, with Cappolino, Dodd and Krebbs, shared information on the problem of opioids and what the lawsuit will do.
“These drugs have been around for a long time,” Brown said. “What changed wasn’t the drug. What changed was the way they’re marketed and prescribed.”
There was a shift from prescribing certain opioids for acute, post-surgical or end of life scenarios to chronic pain scenarios, many of which had never been used for chronic pain before, due to people hired by the companies to market the drugs this way to doctors, Brown said.
“There were 289 million scripts written for opioids last year, so enough for all of us to have a bottle. Clearly the math just doesn’t work out on how much is being prescribed,” Brown said. “So what we’re trying to do is somewhat similar to the tobacco litigation and by that I mean, we’re trying to recoup costs for law enforcement.”
The opioid abuse problem leads to a drain on public finances in dealing with the problem through law enforcement, child protective services and indigent health services, among others, Brown said.
The lead counsel firm, Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, have won more than $296 million in verdicts since 2006, according to Farwell.
“They are excellent when they go to trial. They have no problem taking on the big guys, doesn’t phase them one bit,” Farwell said.
Coryell County attorney Brandon Belt said he had looked over the agreement and found nothing amiss. Belt stressed that it would take a big firm, such as SGPB, to tackle the big pharmaceutical companies.
“You sue the big pharmaceutical company, they will be parachuting lawyers in to fight you because they’re making millions of dollars peddling these pills all over the United States,” Belt said.
The number of prescriptions compared to the number of people in the country doesn’t add up, Belt said. The companies have created a problem of people overdosing on the pills or selling them, and many people with a prescription don’t even use them, they just sell them, Belt added.
“It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed and folks like their firm are the only ones that are capable of addressing it,” Belt said. “It takes a big firm with lots of resources and lots of lawyers to deal with these things.”
The commissioners also approved the Coryell County Sheriff’s Office to receive a donation of a K-9 valued at $15,000 from Rocky Smith of K-9 Officers Inc, which Commissioner Kyle Matthews, Precinct 1, said would be a great value to reducing drug crime in the county.
Sheriff Scott Williams said that a large percentage of the crimes they respond to are drug-related in some way. Before the current K-9 of the Sheriff’s Office, it had been 10 years since they had had a narcotics dog, Williams said.
With the one K-9, the dog is very busy, with four-day coverage one week and three-day coverage the next week. With the addition of another dog, they would have seven-day coverage, he added.
The commissioners also approved approve the Health Services Agreement for the management of inmate medical needs at the County Jail, renewing the contract with Southern Health Partners, which will have a three percent increase, raising the base annualized fee to $162,208.08.
The commissioners also approved FY 2018 Fire Fighting Agreements between Coryell County and the city of Copperas Cove as well as the volunteer fire departments in the county.