County to sue opioid makers, distributors
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.