Shawano County joins legal fight against drug companies

Suit maintains companies liable for opioid crisis

Shawano is one of 28 Wisconsin counties so far that have filed lawsuits in federal court against several pharmaceutical drug-makers and physicians for their role in causing a national epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths.

Cities and counties in more than two dozen states have already filed similar suits, and other Wisconsin counties, including Brown, are considering joining the effort.

“County governments and the services they provide their citizens have been strained to the breaking point by this public health crisis,” the suit alleges. “Wisconsin and Shawano County are in the midst of this crisis.”

According to statistics included in the lawsuit, there were 31 hospital encounters involving opioid poisoning in Shawano County between 2012 and 2014. In 2016, there were 151 hospital encounters related to opioids in the county.

Between 2013 and 2015, at least two people died from opiate overdoses in Shawano County.

Also, according to the suit, between 2013 and 2015 in Shawano County, there were 52 ambulance runs where Naxolene was administered due to an opioid overdose, and between 2012 and 2014, there were 11 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The lawsuits seek compensation for millions of dollars in costs of social services, law enforcement and emergency care in responding to the opioids epidemic in each of the counties.

The suits maintain that drug companies created a public nuisance through a deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresented the safety of long-term opioid use and downplayed their addictive risk. As a result, the crisis has financially strained the services Shawano County provides its residents and employees.

“Human services, social services, court services, law enforcement services, the office of the coroner/medical examiner and health services, including hospital, emergency and ambulatory services, have all been severely impacted by the crisis,” the suit states.

“Defendants’ conduct also caused the county to incur substantial economic, administrative and social costs relating to opioid addiction and abuse, including criminal justice costs, victimization costs, child protective services costs, lost productivity costs, and education and prevention program costs among others,” according to the suit.

Three law firms, led by Crueger Dickinson LLC, of Whitefish Bay, are bringing the suits on Shawano County’s and other entities’ behalf. The firms worked with the Wisconsin Counties Association prior to bringing their proposal to the county.

The suit is being handled at no cost to the county, but the law firms would retain 25 percent of whatever is recovered if the suit succeeds, according to an agreement letter approved by the Shawano County Board.