Dane County hires law firms to pursue legal action against drug companies over opioids

Dane County took a step forward in fighting the opioid addiction epidemic by hiring a group of attorneys, Executive Joe Parisi announced Monday.

The county is pursuing the lawsuit in an attempt to hold drug manufacturers and distributors accountable for their “role causing and fueling the opioid epidemic in the Dane County community.”

“This epidemic has strained our resources and has cost local communities across Wisconsin millions of dollars as we try to get people the treatment and recovery they so desperately need,” Parisi said in a statement.

Dane County is not alone in pursuing legal action. Over one-third of Wisconsin counties are suing pharmaceutical drug-makers and physicians for fraudulent marketing of prescription painkillers that have contributed to opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Baron & Budd is among the group of law firms hired by the county and serves as lead counsel to about 80 percent of the municipalities that have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical distributors for opioid-related claims, including Milwaukee County. The other law firms include Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor; Greene Ketchum Bailey Farrell & Tweel; Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler; and McHugh Fuller Law Group.

“Dane County understands that significant resources will be needed to provide treatment for addiction, education and law enforcement to combat the opioid epidemic,” Baron & Budd shareholder Burton LeBlanc said. “I’m proud to be leading this team and intend to hold these manufacturers and distributors responsible for the widespread damage they have caused in this community.”

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In Dane County, more than 300,000 opioid prescriptions for opioids have been given to residents annually since 2013, according to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

“Aggressive and inappropriate marketing by large pharmaceutical companies has led to misuse of opioids,” Supervisor Mary Kolar, District 1, said. “Medication meant for short term use was pushed by the manufacturers for long term use. We must hold these corporations accountable for the tragic results of addiction, including death, that they made billions of dollars from.”

Public Health of Madison and Dane County has reported that the rate of prescription opioid-involved deaths in Dane County jumped from 13 in 2000 to 85 in 2016. Dane County EMS agencies administered 901 doses of Narcan in 2017, up from 701 in 2016.

The county is working to mitigate effects of opioid use and misuse through programs such as ED2Recovery, a program that uses recovery coaches support those who have survived an overdose seek long-term treatment. Parisi included $15,000 in his budget for this effort.

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