WILMINGTON — Clinton County commissioners have until Friday to decide whether to drop their lawsuit against much of the prescription opioid industry and instead join with other local Ohio governments to group-negotiate a potential settlement.
Clinton County Commissioners President Kerry R. Steed said Monday the State of Ohio believes political jurisdictions will be stronger together than individually, and so the State is making a case to bundle together individual lawsuits around Ohio.
Clinton County commissioners this week will review the State’s memorandum of understanding agreement, known as “One Ohio”, and the State’s proposed formulas for allocating dollars, and try to determine whether it would benefit Clinton County more to be part of “One Ohio” rather than press its own lawsuit.
In December 2017 in federal court, the Clinton County Board of Commissioners sued Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Cardinal Health, and other companies that manufactured or distributed opioid medications. The county’s lawsuit does not specify a dollar figure for damages, and if the board of commissioners were successful with it in court, the amount would be determined at trial.
The suit claimed the conduct of the sued companies “has also exacted, and foreseeably so, a financial burden on Clinton County, Ohio. Clinton County has incurred more law enforcement costs, including, but not limited to, additional patrols to deal with the attendant crime and cost of expensive medication necessary to reverse the effects of overdoses.”
The lawsuit added, “Clinton County has incurred additional costs of jailing opioid-related offenders and necessary treatment for them while incarcerated. Clinton County has also faced drastically increased expenses for child care and foster placement stemming from the opioid epidemic.”
On Monday Steed said the State of Ohio recognizes there may be benefits in bringing all the plaintiff jurisdictions to the table and going after one settlement rather than hundreds of settlements.
One concern about doing it separately, he said, is that some companies could start to pay out to other plaintiffs in other lawsuits and then get to the point where they go bankrupt.
There is pro-and-con with both options, said the commissioner. Joining “One Ohio” involves accepting the State’s formulas. According to a Feb. 24 report about “One Ohio” in the Washington Post, the local governments would receive 30 percent of settlement funds, the State would receive 15 percent, and 55 percent would go toward a new nonprofit foundation to support research and education concerning opioids.
Clinton County Commissioner Mike McCarty said his “frustration is why didn’t they [State of Ohio] come out at the beginning to organize this in this fashion?”
Steed said weighing the options is difficult “because we’ve been through other programs where the state has administered monies and distributed to the counties, and there have been some cases where it hasn’t been as efficient as it possibly could have been or a direct benefit to agencies and individuals that it could have been.”
The commissioners’ 2017 lawsuit was filed by the Columbus firm Isaac Wiles Burkholder & Teetor.
With “One Ohio”, there are 19 proposed regions in Ohio for which there would be a controlling board to oversee the potential settlement distributions, said Steed. The other counties in Clinton’s district would be Warren, Butler, Clermont, Greene, Clark and Madison Counties.
McCarty said the region is “strung from” Clermont County in the south to Madison County in the north. He added it’s not the typical group Clinton County works with.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.