Lee County joins class action opioid lawsuit

During a Tuesday-night discussion of the opioid crisis and current class action litigation against drug manufacturers, Lee County Attorney Jimmy Skipper advised county commissioners that a “highly specialized” law firm will be needed to represent litigants in such a suit. (Staff Photo: Cindi Cox)

LEESBURG — Lee County is joining a class action lawsuit against opiate manufacturers, Lee commissioners announced Tuesday night during their meeting.

On Jan. 29, Lee officials received a memo from J. Anderson Davis, an attorney with a law firm based in Rome.

The memo advised Lee officials of class action litigation currently under way against manufacturers of opiates. According to the memo, more than 140 municipal, county and state governments are currently pursuing litigation against leading opioid manufacturers for the medical, public health and law enforcement costs related to opioid use.

The lawsuits allege that the current opioid crisis stems from aggressive promotion of prescription medications such as Oxycontin and Percocet. The plaintiffs assert that these opiate drug manufacturers both overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of opioid use “while engaging in deceptive and aggressive marketing tactics to physicians and, in turn, to patients.” The lawsuits also claim that the defendants (major opiate manufacturers) failed to monitor, detect, investigate and report suspicious orders of opioids.

“Clearly we are dealing with a growing nationwide and statewide opioid epidemic,” Billy Mathis, vice chairman of the Lee Commission, said.

Dennis Roland, who serves as chairman of the commission, said he has not heard of any opioid problems in Lee County so far but he stands in favor of joining the lawsuit.

Mathis said the litigation involving the opioid epidemic is similar to well-publicized litigation involving Big Tobacco. In previous tobacco-related settlements, state governments were awarded significant funds for the cost of treating addiction.

Mathis said there would be no cost upfront for Lee County to join one of the lawsuits and no consequences to the county if they “win or lose” in a class action suit.

Last week, Sumter County filed a lawsuit against multiple manufacturers and distributors of opioids. The county will be represented by Athens law firm Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley. Its case was filed in federal court and is expected to be transferred to a national multidistrict litigation in Ohio, where more than 400 cases are currently pending.

Mathis said the state of Alabama also signed on to a class action opioid lawsuit last week.

According to Mathis, there are several different class action lawsuits against drug manufacturers and many different law firms taking on states, counties and cities as litigants.

Included in the packet of opioid-related documents for Lee commissioners to consider during Tuesday night’s meeting were several proposals from various attorneys involved in the current opioid class action litigation.

Lee County Attorney Jimmy Skipper said he had read through all of the representation proposals and suggested that hiring “a highly specialized” firm for representation would be imperative.

Commissioners approved a resolution authorizing the employment of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, based in Pensacola, Fla., to represent them in the action. Under the terms of the agreement with the law firm, Lee County will pay no money for up-front litigation but will pay the law firm 30 percent of any settlement that is reached.

Commissioner Rick Muggridge said he would like to see all or a major portion of any settlement received go toward funding mental health services in the county.

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