Mobile County has joined a growing class action lawsuit against several top drug manufacturers and distributors for their alleged role in creating the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis.
On Thursday, County Commissioners cast a unanimous vote to enter into a contract with a trio of law firms including the Mobile-based personal injury law firm of Taylor-Martino.
Like the Mobile Infirmary and the city of Mobile before it, the county expects its forthcoming lawsuit to be swept up into a ballooning class action that’s been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio along with nearly 200 other cases.
One thing separating the county’s claim, however, is its operation of the Metro Jail. Discussing the impending lawsuit recently, Mobile Sheriff Sam Cochran said the majority of Metro inmates are there because of drug abuse and a significant portion of those are opioid abusers or former users who’ve turned to heroin.
Speaking to attorney Steve Martino, Commissioner Jerry Carl, who himself has a background in the pharmaceutical business, said the jail would be a focus of the lawsuit because it’s where the county has and will continue to suffer the most.
“I own a pharmacy and understand the importance of following federal law. We are in business to help people get well, not to turn them into addicts,” Carl said. “Manufacturers and distributors who skirt the law and ignore reporting larger, suspicious shipments month after month have created this problem and must be held responsible.”
Some of those complaints, though still verbal at this point, echo line by line the claims in other lawsuits Martino filed on behalf of public and private entities in the area — all claiming the negligent and deceptive business practices of major producers and distributors of opioids has fueled a drug epidemic affecting millions of Americans every day.
Because of the pace set by Judge Polster in Cleveland, Martino said filing a lawsuit on the county’s behalf of getting into the litigation was more important at the moment than calculating what the possible financial impact of opioid abuse has been here.
However, it could be substantial given the inclusion of the jail’s expenses and the sheer scope of opioid drug use in the area, legal or otherwise. Of the 67 counties in Alabama — a state among the hardest hit by the fallout from opioid abuse — Mobile County has one of the highest rates of opioid prescriptions. Estimates put that figure at around 112 prescriptions for every 100 people.Speaking to impending litigation, Commissioner Connie Hudson said the some of the major companies behind the production of opioids have helped create a national crisis through their lack of oversight and “should be held accountable.”
“They bear responsibility for helping to protect our citizens and communities from the devastating effects of opioid addiction that have shattered countless lives and perpetuated violent crime,” she added.
As others have pointed out in their own lawsuits, the impacts of opioid abuse stretch much further than those using or abusing the drugs. Commission President Merceria Ludgood said that everyone is affected including the children of addicts and the law enforcement officers who deal with criminal activity linked to drug abuse and the black market.
“We cannot stand by and let our families and community be ripped apart,” Ludgood added. “We want to help stop this cycle and help folks remain productive and happy members of society.”