Local governments hire lawyers to sue opioid drug makers

Local governments hire lawyers to sue opioid drug makers

Pensacola is one of the hundreds of cities and counties in the country that are suing major opioid drug makers and distributors to recover the costs spent on opioid abuse. Escambia County is joining the fight.

Last week, county officials hired a local law firm to take on the "big pharma."

"We're forcing big pharma in these lawsuits to be held accountable for the loss, the cost they've shoved on taxpayers," Peter Mougey said.

Mougey is a Partner at Levin Papantonio and he is the main lawyer leading the charge for many cities and counties. He said Escambia County and Pensacola are two of roughly 300 municipalities in the country that have hired lawyers.

Mougey said the reason that so many local governments are taking the issue to court is because of the burden taxpayers have had to endure because of the opioid crisis.

"Big pharma has internalized the profits and externalized the costs and we're trying to say you can't take all the profits and push the costs on the community," Mougey said. "You have to shoulder those costs along with the taxpayers."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016 there were 113 opioid prescriptions written per 100 people in Escambia County. A spokesperson for Escambia County told WEAR-TV they have seen an increase in cost because of overdoses, specifically because of Emergency Medical Services, county Medicaid contributions, jail inmates and law enforcement. The county does not have an estimate as to how much it has cost so far.

Mougey said he is waiting for the numbers from the national database which tracks how many pills are going to a particular area. That way lawyers can get an idea of how much each community was impacted. Mougey said he believes the information will show that these companies were reckless and allowed the abuse of opioid drugs.

"They have most of the answers to a lot of the problems we're seeing around the country, the roadmap for finding where the holes are, where these millions and millions of pills are escaping," Mougey said.

However, getting the information from the database has been a task in itself. The Drug Enforcement Administration, which is in charge of the database, tried to block the information from becoming public. Mougey said that did not work out and it is expected to be released in the next couple weeks. He said then they can put together a case to bring to court.

"Helping clean up the mess, helping fix the problem," Mougey said. "That's to me what gets me motivated and passionate about what we're doing here."

Many local governments have agreed on a contingency plan where lawyers will do the work for free, but will take a portion of the winnings.

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