POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Commission has unanimously voted to initiate a lawsuit against some pharmaceutical drug companies which they believe have exacerbated the opioid addition issue in Mason County.
At their regular meeting on Thursday, Commissioners Sam Nibert, Tracy Doolittle and Rick Handley voted to move forward with the lawsuit, retaining the Chafin Law Firm of Williamson to represent the commission, with Mason County Attorney Matt Clark, acting as a local lawyer on the case. If, and only if, the county wins the suit or agrees on a settlement, will the Chafin Firm receive 25 percent of any amount the county is awarded. Attorney Letitia Neese Chafin said the firm would even absorb the filing fees as well as any expenses should the county lose the suit. This means, the county doesn’t stand to lose any money by moving forward.
The issue to move forward with the lawsuit was tabled by Nibert earlier this month, saying he needed more information. He elaborated on that Thursday, saying he wanted to talk to more people dealing with the issue and to citizens. He added, he wanted to be sure the commission was “doing the right thing” in terms of being sure not to hurt local pharmacies as well.
“We don’t want to target our local pharmacy people,” he said. “We’ve got to start at the top on this.”
By “the top,” he specifically named the companies Cardinal Health and McKessan Corporation, though the suit may include more companies.
Commissioners all talked about the strain they feel the opioid epidemic has put on the county, in terms of regional jail costs, and the excessive demand on county resources, from EMS services, to law enforcement and more.
Nibert said Mason County and its residents were the ones who would be “paying the bill” for the myriad of issues opioid addiction has caused and with that in mind, he made the motion to initiate the lawsuit.
“I think it’s our job to keep as much money in the citizens’ pockets as we can,” Nibert said when talking about the lawsuit that will look for financial damages which are yet to be determined.
Chafin said based on statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, from 2007-12, Mason County ranked 9th out of 55 counties for the number of pills per person. She said in this same time frame, the DEA reported various distributors shipped over 8.6 million pills in to Mason County alone, and that didn’t count what some residents may’ve brought in from other counties. This equated to 300 pills per every man, woman and child, in the county, based on 2010 census numbers, Chafin said.
It’s anticipated a filing could happen within 60 days, and be filed likely in Mason County. Chafin said her firm would work with Prosecuting Attorney R.F. Stein to prepare a contract that the commissioners found acceptable. She said it’s possible the suit could take “several years” before being resolved.
Commissioners said they went with Chafin Law Firm due to its experience working on similar suits and the resources they bring to the table, with a team that far extends Williamson. As Chafin put it, the pharmaceutical companies are billion dollar companies and will have teams of lawyers themselves.
In effect, the commission is getting “lawyered up” for the lawsuit without having to invest a dime, hoping for a payoff which could recoup the losses they feel the county has absorbed due to this epidemic.
“This (opioid) problem got us to this point,” Doolittle said.
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