Counties around the nation are suing opioid manufacturers for deceptive marketing. Will Teton County?
The Board of County Commissioners agreed to schedule an executive session, likely next month, to begin considering legal action.
“These cases generally have an innocent genesis,” Teton County Attorney Steve Weichman said. “They generally start in a physician’s office with a prescription to a medicine whose dangerous quantities have been drastically undersold — or at least that is the premise that is driving the litigation in other communities.”
If a case is filed Teton would be the first county in Wyoming to sue.
“I do think Teton County is positioned to take the lead on this and at least examine it carefully and determine whether or not it is in the community’s best interest to pursue this,” Weichman said.
He couldn’t confirm who else would be involved in the executive session. But during a workshop Feb. 26 he mentioned the possibility of Ochs Law Firm, which is involved in other opioid manufacturer litigation cases, and the Wyoming Attorney General Consumer Affairs Division.
Weichman said he was aware they were in a “dialogue with the manufacturers on a state level.”
“My sense is that they are primarily concerned with remedial remedies rather than financial cost-sharing remedies, but I think that they and their voice could be important for the board in an executive session if you were actually willing to consider litigation,” he said.
Wyoming’s attorney general, Peter Michael, said he didn’t have time to talk due to legislative session responsibilities. Other attorney generals, like Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Kentucky’s Andy Beshear, have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic.
“I think you have to understand, the reason why we’re going after the drug companies is because they marketed these medications as being much safer than they were,” Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue told commissioners last month.
Lawyer Jason Ochs said it would be groundbreaking for Teton County to get involved in litigation: “I believe when the first domino in Wyoming falls, others will follow.”
If Teton County moves forward with litigation, a case would be filed in Wyoming federal court, then consolidated with other similar cases in a process called multidistrict litigation in Cleveland for a workup with other similar cases. It would ultimately be tried in Wyoming.
“Litigation is a means to an end,” Ochs said. “The means is extracting billions and billions and billions of dollars to get their attention. And the end is to stop the epidemic. If litigation can’t stop it we’ve failed.”