County files opioid lawsuit

Robert Smith |
Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners have filed a fraud lawsuit against makers of opioid drugs, seeking to recover costs associated with addiction to the substances.

Filed March 26, the suit lists numerous pharmaceutical companies and physicians as defendants. Sheriff Eddie Virden confirmed to the Journal-Capital that he has met with plaintiff attorneys representing the county in the case, and is working to research costs that the county has paid out as a result of opioid addiction.

Osage County District Attorney Rex Duncan clarified the county’s lawsuit is a separate legal action from the lawsuit that Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed nine months ago in Cleveland County District Court. In filing the state’s lawsuit, Hunter targeted alleged fraudulent marketing by pharmaceutical firms.

Duncan explained that Osage County, by filing its own lawsuit, is placing itself in a position to share in any settlement that may result from governmental legal action against drug companies. He recalled that settlement funds Oklahoma received years ago, as a result of tobacco litigation, were entirely controlled from the state level.

“It’s a pretty important deal for us to get joined into that,” Virden said of Osage County’s attempt to join in recouping costs incurred as a result of actions the criminal-justice system has had to take to cope with opioid-related crime.

Duncan clarified that he is not the filer of the county’s lawsuit. Rather, county commissioners met with private attorneys interested in pursuing the litigation and made a decision to move ahead.

Court records list the Tulsa law firm Gibbs, Armstrong and Borochoff as attorneys for the county. The case has been assigned to Judge John Kane.

Duncan said the lawsuit is a contingency-fee filing, where the lawyers get paid if there’s a favorable settlement or verdict. Thus, the county will not be racking up legal fees in its attempt to be reimbursed for its efforts to deal with the fallout of the nation’s opioid-addiction epidemic.

He added that he understands plaintiff attorneys have been talking with several other northeast Oklahoma units of county and municipal government about potential filings.