'It's time to hold them accountable': municipalities take legal action in opioid crisis

'It's time to hold them accountable': municipalities take legal action in opioid crisis

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) -- Michigan leaders took a big step Tuesday in fighting the opioid epidemic.

Nine municipalities joined together and filed federal lawsuits against dozens of pharmaceutical companies. The municipalities say those companies had a part in the crisis.

“Over 64,000 people died of opioid overdoses last year in America,” Said Dr. Joneign Khaldun, director and health officer for the City of Detroit. “In Michigan, the number’s over 1,600 people last year alone. More people are dying from opioid overdoses then they are from guns and from car crashes, it's incredible.”

Grand Traverse and Chippewa Counties, along with 7 other Michigan municipalities, just filed lawsuits against several pharmaceutical companies. They join nearly 100 other communities across the country.

“I've never seen anything like this,” said attorney Paul Pennock with Weitz & Luxenberg out of New York. “If it doesn't stop, we already have a big problem, we already have what's called a crisis, if it continues I’m not sure what we'll call it.”

Several law firms are representing these municipalities, saying pharmaceutical companies are partly to blame for opioid addiction, and the ensuing issues communities now face.

“There are counties in northern Michigan that are harder hit,” said attorney Tim Smith with Smith & Johnson in Traverse City. “Looking at it from a per capita standpoint as far as the number of deaths, as far as the prescription rates.”

The hope of the lawsuit is to recover the costs spent fighting this epidemic, but also force the companies to change their policies to prevent this moving forward.

“We're sending a very clear message that Michigan is now engaged in this litigation,” said Smith. “Michigan now recognizes at the county level and the city level that the damage these companies have caused is enough. It's time to hold them accountable and recover those tax payer monies.”

Many other northern Michigan communities are considering joining the lawsuit, including Leelanau County, which its commission approved joining the lawsuit 7-0.

Purdue Pharma is one of the plaintiffs. In reaction to the lawsuit the company issued a statement saying:

“We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense."

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