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Emmet considers opioid action

Attorney shares class action info with supervisors

By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer | Nov 25, 2020

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Emmet County supervisors, county attorney Melanie Summers Bauler laid out for the supervisors the terms of joining a class action lawsuit to receive funds for preventing and treating opioid addiction in Emmet County. The class action could reach over $100 billion spread out over the entire country and paid out over a period of up to 20 years, according to Dr. Allen Francis, speaking as an expert witness for American Addiction Centers. Summers Bauler said 47 of 99 counties in Iowa had already signed up to be represented by Crueger Dickinson law firm. According to lawsuits filed in federal court, prescription opioid deaths in Iowa have quadrupled in the past 20 years. Rates of prescription opioid overdose deaths since 1999 in Iowa have increased, making it only one of four states with such a dramatic increase.

According to the lawsuit, the majority of opioid-related deaths in Iowa involved prescription opioids, with there being at least 646 such deaths between 2009 and 2014. In Iowa, opioid related emergency room visits have tripled over the last decade. In 2006 there were only 519 such encounters, whereas there were 1,555 in 2014.

The lawsuits allege the defendants sought to create a false perception in the minds of physicians, patients, health care providers and health care payors that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was allegedly perpetrated through a civil conspiracy involving a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive (unbranded to evade the extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications) promotion and marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006, and is ongoing. Specifically, the complaints detail how the defendants allegedly poured significant financial resources into generating articles, continuing medical education courses and other “educational” materials, conducting sales visits to doctors, and supporting a network of professional societies and advocacy groups – all of which were successful in the intended purpose of creating a new and phony “consensus” supporting the long-term use of opioids.

The companies involved include Purdue Pharma LP and Johnson & Johnson. Purdue Pharma pled guilty in federal court in New Jersey Tuesday to conspiracies to defraud the United States and violate the anti-kickback statute.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said, “Today’s guilty pleas to three felony charges send a strong message to the pharmaceutical industry that illegal behavior will have serious consequences. Further, today’s convictions underscore the department’s commitment to its multi-pronged strategy for defeating the opioid crisis.”

Purdue also admitted it conspired to violate the federal Anti-Kickback Statute. Between June 2009 and March 2017, Purdue made payments to two doctors through Purdue’s doctor speaker program to induce those doctors to write more prescriptions of Purdue’s opioid products.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Purdue agreed to the imposition of the largest penalties ever levied against a pharmaceutical manufacturer, including a criminal fine of $3.544 billion and an additional $2 billion in criminal forfeiture. For the $2 billion forfeiture, the company will pay $225 million within three business days following the entry of a judgment of conviction in accordance with the Plea Agreement.

Purdue has also agreed to a civil settlement that provides the United States with an allowed, unsubordinated, general unsecured bankruptcy claim for recovery of $2.8 billion to resolve its civil liability under the False Claims Act. Separately, the Sackler family has agreed to pay $225 million in damages to resolve its civil False Claims Act liability. The global resolution does not resolve claims that states may have against Purdue or members of the Sackler family, nor does it impede the debtors’ or other third parties’ ability to recover any fraudulent transfers.

Summers Bauler said she hoped for Emmet County this would mean an influx of funding to prevent and treat addiction in the community. Whether or not Emmet County chooses to engage in the lawsuits, ISAC (Iowa State Association of Counties) would still like Emmet County to participate in the settlement discussions, Summers Bauler said.

“The more we can present a united front to the pharmaceutical companies and Attorney General, the more likely it is that money will filter to the counties,” Summers Bauler said. There are currently 3,000 counties across the U.S involved in the litigation.

Any funds from a settlement could be used for past and future treatment costs the county was responsible to pay, for example if someone was court ordered to treatment and the costs were not picked up by insurance or Medicaid, for Narcan, which county law enforcement currently uses, anything the county pays toward foster care and therapeutic placement for the children of people who are addicted, for substance abuse evaluations in the jails for those who are unable to bond out on their drug or other charges. Summers Bauler said she hoped allowable expenses would include those targeting the problems that flow out of opioid abuse in the county. Summers Bauler said opioids have been a factor in child abuse cases she has prosecuted, and that if a person who is addicted can no longer get prescription opioids, they turn to more freely available substances in the area like heroin and methamphetamine.

Summers Bauler said, “It doesn’t appear Emmet County would have a lot of obligation in having to appear in court and those kinds of things. It would simply give the county a voice in saying we would like to see 85% of the settlement money come to the counties and 15% to the state. A larger amount to the state would be set aside and it would be difficult for us in Emmet County to see that money as opposed to a larger area like Polk County where Des Moines is located.”

Addressing concerns that the responsibility of addiction rests with the person who becomes addicted, Summers Bauler said, “The responsibility lies with the addict, but also with the doctor, and with the pharmaceutical company who made this drug that:s highly addictive, and with the company for marketing it and pushing it to doctors. On some level every one of those players is responsible here. It’s hard to sue all the doctors. It’s hard to sue all the addicts. We have all of these effects of the medications they manufactured, so i’s the idea of shame on you for manufacturing these medications.”

Summers Bauler is waiting to receive a proposed letter of engagement from ISAC. The matter was put on the agenda for December 8.

In other business, the supervisors heard from Dale Breuer who expressed concern about the bridge out in the Jim Hall recreation area at Emmet County’s southern border north of Graettinger. In a phone call, county naturalist Eric Anderson said the county crew is aware of the bridge and was in the process of determining how to bring equipment to the area to fix it, and that they would look at it again in the spring.

The supervisors also approved some farm tax credit claims and disallowed others under the rules. The supervisors also heard from county engineer Walter Davis Oeth about widening the shoulder and installing rumble strips at the corner near Ringsted. The cost came in over the estimate, and will be paid $329,000 from state funding, leaving $220,000 from the county’s farm to market account. The corners were considered treacherous in the winter and with a wider shoulder and rumble strips should be safer for drivers, Davis-Oeth said.

The next meeting of the Emmet County board of supervisors will be Tuesday, December 1 at 9 a.m.