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opioid file photo

This 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged in a pharmacy.

The City of Missoula, Missoula County and Lake County have moved forward with their lawsuits against opioid makers.

Since May 1, all three have submitted fact sheets required by a massive nationwide lawsuit pending before federal judge Dan Polster in the Northern District of Ohio. Hundreds of state, local and tribal governments accuse drug makers and distributors of stoking the opioid epidemic, one that’s weighed heavily on public health providers, police and other local services.

Lake County and the City of Missoula, together with Anaconda-Deer Lodge County and the City of Great Falls, are represented by Missoula-based firm Boone Karlberg in this case. Missoula County, meanwhile is represented by Seattle-based Keller Rohrback.

Both cases accuse opioid manufacturers of aggressively marketing their drugs and misrepresenting the risks to doctors, giving rise to an addiction epidemic. “On or about 1996, when (opioid-based painkiller) OxyContin was released to the market, there was an increase in the Plaintiff’s financial expenses related to the conduct alleged in the Complaint," states Missoula County's fact sheet.

The plaintiffs are claiming damages in several areas, including law enforcement, courts, incarceration and public health expenditures; workers’ compensation, and health insurance. At the court's request, they detailed their budgets and expenditures in these categories from 2008 to 2018. Expenditures in a few fields declined, but most rose by hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Alongside the financial cost is a grim human one. The fact sheets also cited data from the State of Montana Vital Health Statistics Unit showing 21 prescription opioid poisoning deaths in Lake County, and 74 in Missoula County, from 2008 through 2019 to date (the City of Missoula used the county data in its fact sheet).

The drug companies marketed the drugs despite their hazards, the attorneys alleged. “At every stage, Defendants knew or should have known that their conduct would create an unreasonable risk of physical harm to others,” states Lake County’s fact sheet.

The northwest Montana plaintiffs are not alone in making these claims. The multi-district opioid litigation now has more than 2,700 parties. Three Ohio counties’ cases have been designated as “Track One” and are set to go to trial in October.

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The Montana localities’ cases will still need to have preliminary issues resolved before Judge Polster, Boone Karlberg attorney Tyler Stockton wrote in an email. He also said that “cases like this tend to resolve out of court,” pointing to a recent $270 million settlement that the State of Oklahoma reached with Purdue Pharma Inc.

Neither the City of Missoula’s nor Lake County’s retention agreements with the laws firms require the governments to pay any money up front, but they do entitle the firm to up to 25% of damages, plus attorney fees and litigation costs. Under Missoula County’s agreement, the firm’s fee will depend on the size of the damages awarded.

Separately, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes also expect to file a complaint soon, said tribal spokesperson Rob McDonald.

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