Kane County: Opioid drug manufacturers to blame for drug overdose deaths

Kane County will attempt to pin the blame for a growing number of opioid drug overdose deaths on the makers of a variety of prescription medications via a pending lawsuit.

County board members spent about 90 minutes this week meeting behind closed doors with a team of lawyers from outside law firms. After, Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon confirmed he'd passed along a recommendation about the viability of a lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers to the board. His office has not yet released the details of that advice.

McMahon, however, did confirm the county board will move forward with a lawsuit.

"The opioid epidemic across this region has been horrific," McMahon said. "I'm pleased the county board has agreed to move forward in holding the opioid industry accountable."

The Kane County coroner's office handles about one opioid death per week, on average this year. That's already more drug deaths than the record total of 36 in 2016.

The lawsuit will seek compensation for the impact to the coroner's office, costs for policing the drug trade by the sheriff and prevention and treatment efforts by the county health department.

Guiding the various departments through the process of determining the damages are two firms McMahon described as "national experts in large, mass tort-type litigation."

The Chicago-based law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC developed the initial lawsuit proposal. The firm won a $75 million settlement against Purdue Pharma LLP and Abbott Laboratories Inc. in 2006. The companies are the promoters and manufacturers of OxyContin. The lawsuit claimed fraudulent marketing to doctors and patients stating the drug was not as addictive as alternative drugs.

Joining the effort is St. Charles-based Meyers & Flowers. The firm specializes in catastrophic injury, medical negligence, defective products and workplace injury lawsuits. Peter Flowers met with the county board this week. He was one of the lead plaintiff attorneys behind a $2.5 billion settlement from a unit of Johnson & Johnson in 2013. More than 8,000 people filed thousands of lawsuits claiming injury by defective artificial hip implants.

Chicago and St. Clair County have similar pending lawsuits.

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