Kane considering lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers

Updated 8/2/2017 4:25 PM
  • "Desperate" to address a local opioid addiction epidemic, Kane County officials may sue drug manufacturers to recoup costs.

      "Desperate" to address a local opioid addiction epidemic, Kane County officials may sue drug manufacturers to recoup costs. James Fuller | Staff Photographer

With Kane County on pace to match or surpass the record number of opioid drug deaths last year, officials prepared to join the growing number of local governments suing drug manufacturers Wednesday.

The Chicago-based law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC recently approached Kane County about filing a class-action lawsuit against at least two drug companies. County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen asked county board members to consider the offer. Lauzen said he isn't as quick to judge some of the drug companies as he believes others have been.

"We are desperate to try to solve this problem," Lauzen said. "We are so distraught our first reflex is to reach out for anything that looks like help. The true victims of opioid addiction are not compensated by this. The litigation lawyers will be and the local governments, like Kane County, will be. The natural question is are counties and victims being used by litigation attorneys?"

Board members didn't seem as concerned with exploitation as they were hopeful about recouping costs spawned by local addiction. The coroner's office, for example, must perform a full autopsy with every drug overdose. Kane County had a record 36 opioid deaths in 2016. This year, the coroner's office has handled about one opioid death per week, on average.

Illinois Department of Public Health statistics show the Chicago area has more emergency department visits involving heroin use than any other place in the country. Cook County has a higher percentage of arrestees testing positive for opiates than any other county.

Monica Silva, chairman of the Kane County Board's public health committee, said those numbers are no accident.

"I do believe that there are pharmaceutical companies that knew where this was going and looked the other way," Silva said. "I do feel that this litigation would be something that's important to participate in."

Some board members compared an opioid lawsuit to tobacco company litigation in the 1990s. Illinois received $9.1 billion from that lawsuit. Kane County Board Member John Martin, who oversees the county's judicial and public safety departments, said there's no question county taxpayers are bearing some of the costs of opioid addiction.

"Every month I look at issues that we face here that all relate to the opioid epidemic," Martin said. "As stewards of the county's coffers, if we can reimburse the county's population for the expenditures we make because of this, we owe it to the community. We should pursue it."

The full county board will vote on pursuing a lawsuit next Tuesday. St. Clair County, near East St. Louis, and Chicago have already filed similar lawsuits. Kentucky, New York and Washington have local governments that have also sued opioid drug manufacturers and marketers.

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