SPARTA—While supervisors voiced concerns, the Monroe County Board of Supervisors voted to join a multi-county lawsuit against manufacturers of opioid medications at the county’s Nov. 21 regular monthly meeting.
The board voted 13-2, with supervisors Doug Path and Paul Steele dissenting and supervisor Dan Olson absent.
The lawsuit seeks to pressure persons and entities responsible for the opioid abuse epidemic to accept responsibility for the costs the epidemic has imposed on local governments.
Supervisor Mary Von Ruden favors the lawsuit. She said 37 counties in Wisconsin have already joined.
“When I went to the (Wisconsin) Counties Association conference ... one of the workshops was explaining how ... all counties are having issues with human services going over their budgets because they can’t afford all the issues the opioids are bringing,” she said.
Von Ruden said the lawsuit “is a big part of opening up everybody’s eyes, and if we don’t stop this, doing whatever we can to stop this, the price is going to keep rising.”
Supervisor Doug Path said he’s not against joining the lawsuit but believes more information was needed before the board could make a decision.
“I think it’s too early to jump in and vote on something we are very uninformed about,” he said. “It’s a good thing. I’m not against the lawsuit, but if I’m going to put my name on the dotted line, I want to know all of the information and move forward with that.”
Path was specifically concerned about compensation for the involved law firms. which have agreed to bear the upfront costs associated with the claims and would not be compensated unless the county receives a financial benefit.
“That’s when it’s going to cost us something,” he said. “I ask what the breakdown would be. Is it a 50/50 deal − the attorneys would get 50 percent ... and the counties would get 50 percent? ... We’re already incurring costs, and we will continue to incur them until this is resolved, so why shouldn’t we know how much we’re going to get?”
Corporate council Andy Kaftan said the breakdown is still unknown.
“There’s no clear answer on how any recovery will be split among the counties,” he said. “It’s not clear how they’re intending to look at what the costs are for the counties. We don’t really know; we don’t have the data yet. Part of this will be gathering the data.”
Kaftan said it might not be known until the end of the lawsuit.
“Part of the reason they sent out this type of lawsuit where they recover percentage and their out-of-pocket cost is because they don’t know what the settlement is going to be,” he said. “If they knew they were going to be getting money, they would have switched to an hourly fee and expect you to pay up front. But this is so open-ended, they don’t know if they’ll be successful, and if they’re not successful, they lose − they’re out of pocket all the cost they put in. ... well we may never know until the final bell is rung on this.”
Supervisor James Schroeder was concerned about the possibility of failure.
“My biggest concern over the whole thing is, yes, the pharmaceutical companies did make this drug, but who allowed them to put it on the market?” he said. “That’s the part that bothers me, how far will this go, and will they jump behind that and say, ‘Look, we didn’t put it out there. We made it, but the Food and Drug Administration is the one that let it be put on the market and your pharmacies are the ones that sold it.’”
Kaftan said that will be part of the opposition’s argument.
“To win, you’ll have to be more like the tobacco industry where you’re fighting studies and other information that they knew just how dangerous this was,” he said. “The only way we’re going to know is as this lawsuit moves forward and we see what the evidence is and we know how much they knew by the end of this.”