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Harrison County joins opioid lawsuit

Longview News-Journal - 11/11/2017

MARSHALL - Harrison County this week became the newest county to join a lawsuit that targets pharmaceutical companies and their role in the nationwide opioid epidemic.

"Every state, every county - unfortunately your county, Harrison County - is not immune to the problem of the opioid crisis," said Boyd Smith, an attorney with Gallagher Law Firm in Houston. Harrison County Commissioners voted to retain the law firm to represent the county in litigation.

Other counties that are part of the litigation include Upshur, Rusk, Smith and Marion counties.

Opioids are a family of drugs that includes prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, illegal drugs such as heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The addiction to the drugs is an epidemic that has been sweeping the nation, health officials say.

Smith said drug companies and manufacturers that will be listed as defendants in the lawsuit created the problem through deceitful and illegal activity. And because the issue is not only costing lives but also costing counties, Smith said, law firms are visiting with counties regarding what can be done - at no cost to the county - to try to stop the conduct and recoup some money for taxpayers.

The attorney noted that deaths from opioid abuse in this country have quadrupled since 1999. About 78 people in the U.S. die a day from opioid overdose, the U.S. surgeon general said in a report published in November 2016. About 1,186 Texans died in 2015 of opioid abuse, Smith said.

"It's right here in Harrison County," he said. "And it's not just grownups. It's kids, unfortunately. It's in our schools. ... Four percent of your population here reported on themselves using these drugs for nonmedical purposes last year. This is terrible."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, for every hundred residents in Harrison County last year, there were 72 prescriptions reported for opioids.

To stop the problem, Smith said, drug companies need to be hit in the pockets - "the only place they pay attention to."

"How do we do that and how does it cost the county no money to try to do that is by filing a lawsuit on behalf of Harrison County against these manufacturers and others," he said. "If we win, then yes we get 35 percent of recovery; but if we lose, the county pays nothing - not one penny of the taxpayers goes to fees."

He said the law firm is filing the case on the theory that these drugs are a public nuisance.

"As I think we all recognize, there are valid uses for these morphine-like drugs," Smith said. "What we need to do is re-empower our physicians. Give them accurate information. I used to represent hospitals and clinics in Houston in health care litigation.

"I know for a fact those doctors rely on the truthfulness, the accuracy of the information they get from these drug companies. And when they start committing fraud and misleading our doctors, they need to be stopped."

The estimated amount that may be recovered from the litigation filed by Harrison County exceeds $100,000, according to the contract.

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