Lackawanna County is taking on the opioid epidemic in a new way. The county is going to court.
Commissioners announced plans Friday to file a civil lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies they believe are responsible for the crisis.
Within the last year, more than two dozen other cities, counties and even states across the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.
Lackawanna County believes it will become one of the first areas in Pennsylvania to file such a lawsuit. Another community outside of Philadelphia has already announced similar lawsuit plans.
“I’ve been working at this so long and I can’t believe that I’m actually standing here telling all of you that we’re going to actually go out and do something!” Lackawanna County commissioner Laureen Cummings said.
Cummings, who is also a nurse, was emotional Friday as Lackawanna County formally announced plans to file a civil lawsuit against 14 pharmaceutical companies due to the opioid crisis.
The county will get help from the New York-based law firm of Marc J. Bern & Partners.
“We intend to show that these pharmaceutical companies knew from the very beginning when they started to market these opioid drugs that they were addictive!” attorney Joseph Cappelli with Marc J. Bern & Partners LLP said.
Marty Henehan lost his daughter to an overdose in April 2016.
He’s glad Lackawanna County is shining a light on the issue.
“To sit back idly and pretend that it’s just not happening if it hasn’t directly affected you, it doesn’t really make any sense to me!” Marty Henehan said.
Outside the courthouse, 231 grave markers were set-up on Friday.
They represent the Lackawanna County residents who died from overdoses in the last three years.
While many of the pharmaceutical companies believe they can’t be held responsible for what happens when pills go down the supply chain, this group disagrees.
“The information that the doctors receive about the drug that they are prescribing is given to them by the pharmaceutical company so the pharmaceutical company is the one who is educating the doctor!” Cappelli said.
Commissioners say the lawsuit will not cost the county any out-of-pocket expenses but if it is successful the law firm will take a 25-percent fee on money obtained.
District Attorney Shane Scanlon says given other lawsuits nationwide there could be strength in numbers.
“The more pressure that is applied really can force the drug companies to change their ways and hopefully save a few of our lives,” Scanlon said.
Lackawanna County expects to file its civil lawsuit in the next few weeks.
Some speculate all the lawsuits nationwide could rival what happened with the big tobacco industry in the 1990’s which led to a $200 billion settlement.
Lackawanna County is planning a forensic audit from the last decade or more to determine a dollar amount of the opioid crisis.
They believe it could be in the tens-of-millions of dollars.