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County does not have business in opioid lawsuit

By PAT BROWN,

T he very idea that Simpson  County would agree to be a part of an opioid class action suit is ridiculous. 

  However, at the last meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, State Representative Noah Sanford suggested that the county indeed become a part of the suit. 

   Sanford was soliciting the county’s participation in a multi-jurisdictional case.  He is suggesting that the county enjoin the suit with Hattiesburg attorney A.J. Elkins. 

  Sanford told the board that it would not cost the county anything to be a part of the suit.  He stated that  over 100 counties across the United States have joined suits wanting “a piece of the action” from opioid producers.   Thus far Forrest, Lawrence and Marion counties in this area have joined in for a piece of jackpot justice.

   The attorneys will take a 30 percent settlement fee for any funds recovered in the settlement.  According to Sanford, the target of the case will be pharmaceutical drug suppliers. 

  Tommy Joe Harvey, clerk for the board, told board members that this could be a way for the board to recover money that was spent through the chancery court program for opioid drug care.  

   The board seemed to look favorably on becoming a party to the suit.  This paper questioned whether it was necessary for the board to have proceeds from lawsuits to operate the county, citing the example of the failed lawsuit of the school board against the state over adequate funding for public education. 

    The board opted to discuss the issue with their attorney, Danny Welch, at a future meeting. 

  Harvey was asked how many opioid addiction cases had been referred for treatment, but he did not have a number so no dollar figures were available regarding any expense to the county.  He did, however, say that  140 referrals of addiction cases had been made to the state hospital. 

    This brings up another question:  Is it proper for a state representative to solicit business for which he will receive personal benefit?  Sanford was listed on the agenda in his official capacity as State Representative. 

    We have spoken with three local attorneys, who say Sanford’s advocacy for the suit could present an issue of conflict of interest.  It certainly could appear that way. 

    The attorneys consulted also contend that in order to bring a case against these pharmaceutical companies, damages must be proven.  This means there would have to be individuals as well as physicians and maybe even state facilities where some of these physicians are employed. 

   So just what is this opioid epidemic?  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.  Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.

  Any long-term use can put someone at risk of addiction, even if the substance is used as prescribed. Many people who use opioids will develop a tolerance to them–a phenomenon that can trigger the cycle of addiction. This means that the same amount of the drug no longer has the same effect as it once did. When this occurs, people routinely take more and more of the substance to elicit the desired response. This ever-increasing dosing places one at great risk for overdose.

   While we realize that opioid abuse is a real problem, we do not believe we have enough of those situations in Simpson County to warrant the county joining in a lawsuit which will eventually cost everyone more money to pay settlement costs if these lawyers get their way.