The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is encouraging local governments to join its lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
Believing he can prove damages in the billions of dollars, Attorney General Mike Hunter is assembling a committee to ensure cities and counties get their share from any settlement. Hunter said his suit has another upside — joint and several liability, meaning any drug company involved can be held fully responsible for damages.
"I want these entities to make this decision based on the empirics of pros and cons, the choices that they have. You know, we think that they’re in a better position in our lawsuit," Hunter said.
The committee will come up with an allocation formula, and local governments will get to show the committee the impact the drugs have had in their areas.
"I anticipate every entity’s going to have their own damage model, and the better their data is, the easier it’s going to be to fold into the allocations," Hunter said.
Any award will likely go into a trust to pay for ongoing addiction treatment, similar to how tobacco settlement payments go to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.
With the state’s opioid lawsuit set to begin next year, private law firms are approaching cities and counties about suing drug companies. Tulsa County heard presentations from two firms this week: The Barron Law Firm in Claremore and South Carolina's Motley Rice.
County Commissioner Karen Keith said they have some homework to do before committing to their own action or joining Hunter.
"We need to do analysis of what harm has been done here and what potential recovery there could be, and see if it makes it worth the time to invest to dig through all the paperwork and everything else to recover that or to piggyback off the state," Keith said.
The state's lawsuit blames pharmaceutical companies for Oklahoma's overuse of opioid painkillers, saying the drugs were marketed for years as harmless and effective. It is currently in the discovery phase, and Hunter intends to depose company executives.