Council takes steps toward joining opioid litigation
KINGMAN – After hearing a presentation on opioid epidemic litigation from Daniel Mensher of the law firm Keller Rohrback at Tuesday’s meeting, Council voted unanimously in directing staff to draft an agreement with the firm, which could pave the way for the City to enter into litigation.
Mensher told Council his firm, which has offices in Phoenix and Seattle, is involved in opioid suits across the West in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Arizona. He said the firm represents more than 30 counties throughout those states and has just recently filed a case on behalf of Cochise County.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors declined to enter into opioid litigation in April.
“I don’t see any need in this,” said Supervisor Buster Johnson after a presentation from a California law firm. “To me, this is bottom-feeding like the tobacco suit. It’s like ‘Reefer Madness’ all over again.”
Keller Rohrback is one of 12 firms appointed by Ohio federal Judge Dan Polster to represent counties, cities and tribes wanting to bring lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.
“The cases really are about holding the companies that manufacture and distribute opioids, hold them responsible for the mess that they have helped to create,” Mensher said. “Companies like Purdue (Pharma) that created OxyContin, companies like Cardinal Health that distribute astonishing amounts of opioid medications across the country, really started this epidemic that we’re now suffering through today.”
Mensher traced the history of the epidemic back to 1996, around the time when OxyContin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for generic pain. He said there were no “pure opioids available on the market” before that time aside from inpatient care, such as someone who had recently undergone surgery and would be closely monitored by a doctor.
“They realized when they got a patent for this drug, that although it was a good drug, it did the things that they wanted it to, it was limited to post-surgery care, limited a few days, and end of life palliative care,” he said. “So pretty limited markets if you’re a company like Purdue and your goal is to make millions of dollars.”
Mensher alleged that four of the largest prescription opioid manufacturers, Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Endo International and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, engaged in an “incredibly sophisticated campaign,” aimed at convincing doctors, regulators and patients of the safety of prescription opioids.
He said that those companies marketed prescription opioids as being good for long-term use.
“There’s a real problem with that though because as you take OxyContin or one of these opioids for a longer period of time, your body stops receiving that pain relieving action from the opioid,” Mensher noted. “So you have to take more and more, higher and higher doses of OxyContin in order to get the same pain relieving effect.”
Mensher also said Purdue created a concept called pseudo-addiction, characterized by typical addictive behavior, but that is remedied by prescribing more opioids as opposed to less. Purdue Pharma could not be reached for comment.
“So as a result you have prescription opioids going from one of the top 20 most prescribed categories of drugs to being the number one category of drugs prescribed in the United States by orders of magnitude,” Mensher said. “There are essentially one prescription for opioids written for every American citizen and that includes babies to grannies.”
He said one of the dangers these prescriptions pose to the community is that addictions may not stop with opioids. He commented that some people then shift to drugs such as heroin. He added that the financial burden of these addictions often times falls to local governments because those are the entities tasked with arrests, and dealing with addiction-related homelessness and treatment options.
Vice Mayor Jen Miles asked Mensher if in the event the City of Kingman enters into litigation and money is awarded, if there would be constraints on the City’s use of those funds. He said there would be no constraints on those funds and the City would be free to use them however it sees fit, but there may be city code regulations Kingman would have to take into consideration.
The litigation is not a class-action lawsuit. Mensher explained, prompted by a question from Councilman Travis Lingenfelter, that each of the approximate 850 opioid epidemic cases is filed individually, but they are all consolidated under Judge Polster.
Keller Rohrback’s contracts with government entities for the opioid litigation are on a contingency fee basis, meaning the City would not incur any cost associated with paying the firm. Should funds be awarded through the litigation, Mensher said his firm’s agreements range from 10 to 20 percent of what is awarded.
Mayor Monica Gates said through her experiences serving on Foster Care Review Boards she has seen the effects drug abuse and dependency has on the community’s children. She stated that more than 95 percent of children coming into care do so because of family problems related to illegal substances.
“So thank you Council for recognizing this is one way that we could truly help our community,” Gates said.