County to sue opi­oid mak­ers, dis­trib­u­tors

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION - By Tripp Stel­nicki

Santa Fe County will be­come the lat­est gov­ern­ment agency to sue man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of opi­oids as pol­i­cy­mak­ers in cities, counties and states across the na­tion seek to re­cover da­m­ages from the drug­mak­ers they say have un­leashed a costly epi­demic of nar­cotic painkiller ad­dic­tion.

County com­mis­sion­ers on Tues­day ap­proved leg­is­la­tion that calls for le­gal ac­tion.

“We have to con­tin­u­ally keep at the fore­front of this par­tic­u­lar is­sue,” Com­mis­sioner Robert Anaya said.

The county will is­sue a re­quest for pro­pos­als for le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and could join other lo­cal gov­ern­ments in lit­i­ga­tion. Ber­nalillo and Rio Ar­riba counties have dis­cussed fil­ing com­plaints against drug man­u­fac­tur­ers, ac­cord­ing to the res­o­lu­tion.

“We are more than will­ing to work with other counties and cities on this is­sue,” said Com­mis­sioner Anna Hansen, who spon­sored the mea­sure. “It is not just a small area of our state. It is the en­tire north­ern part of our state.”

In Septem­ber, Mora County be­came the first lo­cal gov­ern­ment agency in New Mex­ico to take ac­tion, re­tain­ing a pair of law firms to seek com­pen­sa­tion from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies whose pre­scrip­tion drugs the county claims have harmed res­i­dents. The suit was filed in a state Dis­trict Court.

Also in Septem­ber, New Mex­ico At­tor­ney Gen­eral Hec-

tor Balderas brought a state Dis­trict Court law­suit against the coun­try’s largest opi­oid man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors, claim­ing the drug­mak­ers “falsely and mis­lead­ingly down­played the se­ri­ous risk of ad­dic­tion” and “falsely touted” the ben­e­fits of the drugs.

A re­cent piece in The New Yorker ex­plored the mar­ket­ing ploys be­hind the rise in pop­u­lar­ity of drugs such as OxyCon­tin, which in­cluded the de­ploy­ment of paid physi­cians to en­dorse the prod­uct to other doc­tors and vouch for the prod­ucts’ du­bi­ous safety.

“New Mex­ico con­tin­ues to en­dure the most cat­a­strophic ef­fects of the opi­oid cri­sis all while ma­jor out-of-state cor­po­ra­tions make bil­lions in prof­its at the ex­pense of our fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties,” Balderas in a state­ment said af­ter fil­ing the state’s law­suit.

More than 64,000 Amer­i­cans died of drug over­doses in 2016, ac­cord­ing to re­cent data re­leased by the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion — a 17 per­cent jump over 2015, when over­doses killed 59,000 peo­ple in the na­tion. Drug over­doses are now the lead­ing cause of death for Amer­i­cans younger than 50, the agency said.

Nearly 500 peo­ple in New Mex­ico died of over­doses in 2016, in­clud­ing 68 Santa Fe County res­i­dents — three times the num­ber of county peo­ple killed in car crashes, ac­cord­ing to the county res­o­lu­tion.

Many U.S. cities, counties and states have taken up le­gal ac­tion against var­i­ous drug­mak­ers or dis­cussed their in­tent to do so — in­clud­ing dozens in the past few weeks alone. Th­ese in­clude Jack­sonville, Fla.; Toledo, Ohio; Lex­ing­ton, Ky.; Salt Lake County in Utah and the Eastern Band of Chero­kee In­di­ans, a tribe based in North Carolina.

On Tues­day, the city of In­di­anapo­lis be­came the lat­est no­table mu­nic­i­pal­ity to file a fed­eral suit. “Opi­oids are killing our neigh­bors,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said ear­lier this year, ac­cord­ing to the In­di­anapo­lis Star.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared the opi­oid cri­sis a “health emer­gency” late last month, and a com­mis­sion he has tasked with study­ing the epi­demic has rec­om­mended more than 50 strate­gies to com­bat the prob­lem. But Trump has made no re­quest to Congress to fund the ini­tia­tives.

Santa Fe County com­mis­sion­ers be­lieve that through le­gal ac­tion against the drug­mak­ers, the county might be able to re­cover some of the tax­payer dol­lars spent ad­dress­ing the opi­oid cri­sis. The county’s law en­force­ment agen­cies, first re­spon­ders, com­mu­nity ser­vice providers and de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties have been strained by costs associated with the epi­demic, the res­o­lu­tion says.

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