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Health, Science & Tech

City, County Consider Suing Prescription Opioid Distributors, Marketers

Toby Talbot

With more than 650 drug fatalities in 2017, Allegheny County broke the record for fatal overdoses set the previous year, which in turn broke the record established in 2015.

“The deaths have gone up over the last number of years. But there's also a cost to the public the Human Services budget, our jail budget, our public safety budget that really gets impacted,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “So we wanted to take a look at what are our legal options to help the taxpayers recoup some of that money.”

The city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have hired Motley Rice, LLC to explore a lawsuit against distributors and marketers of prescription opioids.

Credit Kevin Gavin / 90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Motley Rice is the law firm that won the more than $200 billion settlement with the tobacco industry in 1998.

According to Fitzgerald, Motley Rice will working with county officials in human services, the health department, the jail and public safety to determine the costs to the county and “what the taxpayers can hope to recover.”

Several southwestern Pennsylvania counties have already filed suit against prescription drug makers and marketers including Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland.

Meantime, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and his colleagues in 40-plus states are investigating the prescription drug manufacturers and marketers for possible lawsuits.  Shapiro cites national statistics in saying 80 percent of illegal opioid users started with a legal painkiller.

“I think Attorney General Shapiro has probably hit on something that is important,” Fitzgerald said, and that’s one reason why the county and city have hired Motley Rice “to find out what is the best [way to go],  where are the culprits, the folks that are causing these issues.”

According to Fitzgerald, costs associated with addressing the opioid epidemic has limited the county from confronting other issues including reducing smoking rates, tackling the diabetes and obesity problems as well as food deserts in the county.

But he added any suit would not be strictly about recovering costs. 

“It’s also about getting the [pharmaceutical] community to act in a more responsible manner. If they find out that legally there is liability on their side, the financial interests in their case will cause them to act in a better way,” Fitzgerald said.