- Contract approved to hire The Sam Bernstein Law Firm PLLC
- Many municipalities have sued over medical costs
- Law firms working on contingency of getting a settlement from major pharmaceutical companies
Detroit is gearing up to sue major pharmaceutical companies over their marketing tactics and sale of highly addictive opioid pain killers, following a litigation strategy being pursued by Oakland and Wayne counties and other major cities across the country.
The Detroit City Council on Tuesday approved hiring The Sam Bernstein Law Firm PLLC in Farmington Hills and the Detroit office of Weitz & Luxenberg P.C. to represent the city in forthcoming litigation against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
Last month, Wayne and Oakland counties became the first Michigan municipalities to file suit against a dozen drugmakers and distributors over how they market and sell opioids.
Attorney Mark Bernstein said his family law firm also is representing the city of Lansing as well as Delta, Saginaw and Grand Traverse counties in similar litigation against pharmaceutical companies and distributors of opioid prescription drugs.
Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, the city’s corporation counsel, said he hopes to file Detroit’s lawsuit by the end of the year.
Opioids include prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Fentanyl, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin. They’re a highly addictive and sometimes lethal class of painkillers. Drugmakers have come under increased scrutiny as the opioid crisis has gained more public attention.
The proliferation of opioids has added costs to Detroit’s public health services and emergency medical care and contributed to the deaths of an unknown number of Detroiters, Hollowell said.
Opioid-related deaths in Wayne County totaled 817 in 2016, up from 506 in 2015 — a 61 percent increase, according to Wayne County Executive Warren Evans’ office.
By filing suit, Hollowell said, Detroit could become part of a possible settlement with drugmakers. There’s no guarantee such a settlement will be reached, and getting there is likely to take years.
“I wanted to make sure that we were represented in this case as an independent party in light of the devastating damages that are being suffered in our community,” Hollowell told Crain’s.
Hollowell told City Council that Detroit “made a strategic error” by not becoming an individual plaintiff in the 1990s nationwide litigation against tobacco companies over the harmful effects of cigarettes.
Detroit repeated the mistake following the Great Recession by not joining state and local government lawsuits against banks and mortgage companies over “predatory lending” practices that preceded the housing foreclosure crisis, Hollowell said.
“There is no cost to the city of Detroit — it’s all on contingency basis,” Hollowell told council members.