Opioids

OxyContin pills are shown at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. The opioid epidemic is taking a grim toll in overdose deaths. But it is also ravaging family finances and even, according to some experts, becoming a drag on the U.S. economy.

Toby Talbot, Associated Press file photo

YORKVILLE — The Racine County Board Tuesday night unanimously voted to join dozens of Wisconsin counties in a lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers over their alleged “deceptive and fraudulent marketing of painkillers.”

The suit specifically names Purdue Pharma (the maker of the painkiller Oxycontin), Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions, their subsidiaries and individual physicians as defendants. At least 10 states have filed similar lawsuits.

“The basic premise of this suit is that the manufacturers deceived the public by omitting and/or misrepresenting critical information about opioids’ addictive qualities and other risks associated with prolonged use,” said Racine County Corporation Counsel Michael Lanzdorf. “It also alleges they misrepresented the benefits and superiority of opioids all in the strategy to increase profit margins.”

County Supervisor Monte Osterman of Racine called the resolution “one of the most important statements we could be making.”

“This falls right in our county executive’s wheelhouse for trying to improve the mental health of all of Racine County,” he said.

In a press release issued Tuesday night, County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said the lawsuit is about accountability.

“By filing this lawsuit, Racing County seeks to hold these companies accountable for their role in the scourge that’s infiltrated our community,” he said. “Opioid addiction has caused incredible damage for families across Racine County and county resources are stretched thin trying to address this devastating crisis.”

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling was quoted in the release as saying the lawsuit would hold these companies responsible for the crisis his office is facing.

“The Sheriff’s Office sees firsthand how the opioid epidemic impacts our community on a nearly everyday basis,” Schmaling said. “The manufacturers of these highly addictive medications have played a significant part in the epidemic and this lawsuit is an important step toward holding them responsible.”

At least 35 dead

According to the release, the Racine County Medical Examiner’s Office reported 35 confirmed deaths related to drug overdoses in 2017 as of Tuesday with another six pending cases that are likely overdoses. Medical Examiner Michael Payne said if the plaintiffs win, it could provide valuable resources for the fight against opioid addiction.

“We will never be able to bring back those who lost their lives because of this epidemic,” said Payne. “The lawsuit is one way for the county to not only recoup some of the money expended in battling this epidemic but stem the tide in our fight and, ultimately, save lives.”

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