BELTON — The Bell County Commissioners Court on Thursday continued to weigh if they should file a lawsuit against the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers.
The commissioners met with lawyers Richard Dodd and Craig Brown of Cameron-based Cappolino, Dodd and Krebs Law Firm to discuss the potential for the firm to represent Bell County in a potential lawsuit.
Dodd explained to the commissioners that his law firm is well positioned to fight on behalf of Bell County. He said they have a history of dealing with pharmaceutical lawsuits; the money to support what may become a long battle; and the lawyers on the ground in Ohio where the opioid lawsuits will be litigated.
Additionally, Dodd pointed out that the law firm represents 27 counties — including neighboring Coryell County — that have filed suit against the opioid industry. The lawsuits come amid a national opioid-drug epidemic.
“As far as I’m aware, the opioid crisis is the only major policy in the United States that Trump and Obama agreed on,” Craig Brown said.
The opioid crisis arose over the course of the past 25 years, Craig Brown said. The opioid industry, he said, created a sophisticated operation that changed the prescription habits of doctors in the United States.
Manufacturers began marketing opioids as a way to relieve chronic pain, Craig Brown said. Then those companies, he added, would take swag to doctors.
“All of it designed to convey the idea that your patient should not be in pain,” Craig Brown said.
Commissioner Tim Brown compared the opioid arguments to the arguments that counties made against the tobacco industry. The tobacco lawsuits resulted in a settlement.
“Our impact appears to be quite low,” Tim Brown said of an opioid lawsuit.
After flipping through a packet prepared by the lawyers, Tim Brown said that their data shows there are 10 deaths caused by opioids per 100,000 people. For Bell County, that would come out to 30 deaths, he said.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 53.4 opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every 100 people in Bell County last year.
“Is it worth us being in the middle? Is there a bigger piece that we’re missing?” the commissioner asked.
Craig Brown explained that for every death there are 77 overdoses. The lawyer said the opioid crisis causes an impact on the costs of local law enforcement, indigent health care, Child Protective Services, jail costs and county employee prescriptions.
“The one thing about addiction is that there are no borders,” Dodd said.
If Bell County moves forward with a lawsuit, the cost of opioids here will be quantified by an economist hired by the law firm, the lawyers said.
Commissioner Bill Schumann’s main concern about going forward with a lawsuit is that it does not harm Bell County doctors. Dodd is often asked about this topic.
“We’re not going to drag anybody you don’t want us to do,” Dodd said, warning that local physicians could be dragged in by the opioid industry.
The Commissioners Court has not made any decisions on a lawsuit, Bell County Judge Jon Burrows said. The commissioners will continue to meet with local firms and do their due diligence before filing a lawsuit, he added.