County commission goes after drug companies

Opioid crisis leads to commission voting to file civil complaint


As an addendum at Tuesday’s Baldwin County Commission meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve filing a civil complaint against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids for their part in the county’s opioid problems.

The commission voted to file the complaint and approve Commission Chairman Frank Burt to execute an engagement to represent document with the Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty and Proctor law firm to pursue all civil remedies against those in “the chain of distribution of prescription opiates responsible for the opioid epidemic which is plaguing Baldwin County.

The action could lead to filing a claim for public nuisance to abate the damages.

Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott said this was a move the county has considered for some time.

“This is something that we are obviously acutely aware of already, but we’ve seen other counties, areas and municipalities looking at it as well,” Elliott said.

Elliott said the focus of the action would be on opioid distributors.

“These people have a responsibility under federal code to pay attention to potential abuses and they’re simply not doing that,” Elliott said. “There is also a significant problem that we’ve seen with doctors in Baldwin County - primary care physicians, pain management specialists, dentists - that are prescribing opioids at a rate that is contrary to the public good.”

Elliott said it is the commission’s hope that any funds that could be gained from the legal actions would be used in a two-pronged approach: law enforcement investigations to stop the spread of opioids and helping with treatment of people addicted to the drugs.

“While you may see this litigation focusing on the distributors directly, any funding received from the disposition of this case may be used to look at what doctors and dentists are doing on that end as well,” Elliott said. “Treatment is a reasonable component as well. One thing the sheriff’s department is dealing with a lot, especially at the jail, is opioid withdrawal. That increases our costs significantly and degrades their health prior to entering our system, which adds additional costs to the taxpayers.”

Elliott said he hopes that local medical professionals will work harder at trying to curb opioid prescriptions themselves to help manage the crisis.

“It’s a very real crisis, and while this focuses on distributors, there’s also a lot of responsibility for doctors and dentists to pay attention to what they’re doing and make sure they aren’t contributing to that addiction crisis we have here in Baldwin County,” Elliott said.