Catoosa County commissioners have agreed to pass a resolution acknowledging the current opioid crisis in the area and to join a class-action lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors.
During the bi-monthly Board of Commissioner's meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 20, County Attorney Chad Young discussed the opioid situation in the area that has evolved to crisis status over the past few years.
"The current state of the opioid crisis that you all read about in the news, and I'm sure the sheriff can attest to how it affects or has affected our county, is a serious health matter," Young said. "There has been some class-action litigation filed by local governments from various states and state governments that's pending against the manufacturers and distributors of these drugs."
Young said that the class-action lawsuit is an attempt for governments to recoup some of the added expense the opioid issue has created.
"The purpose is to try to recover the increased costs that local governments are having to face, whether it be through law enforcement or emergency management responses based on the over-prescription of these drugs," Young said. "For instance, all counties in the state of Georgia are being solicited by big law firms that have expertise in this class-action type of litigation, including Catoosa County. We've had multiple solicitations."
Young said that when the county's data was evaluated, it revealed that prescription numbers for opioids are being written at an alarming rate.
"There are more opioid prescriptions written in Catoosa County than there are people in Catoosa County," Young said.
Commission Chairman Steven Henry clarified that the numbers show there are 116 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 people in the county.
Before voting on whether to join the lawsuit, the board unanimously approved passing a resolution essentially declaring that the opioid crisis has had negative effects on Catoosa County to the extent that it is a public nuisance, which in turn authorizes legal action against fighting that nuisance.
Per the vote, the county will retain the Atlanta-based law firm of Lewis Brisbois Brisgaard & Smith LLC to represent Catoosa County, with Patty & Young to serve as local council.
Young and fellow county attorney Clifton M. "Skip" Patty say there will not be any cost involved for the county unless there's a favorable outcome.
"There is no fee due by the county unless a monetary claim is awarded in the suit," Young said. "If there is a monetary recovery, the fee is the standard contingent fee of one-third of the recovery."
Young added that if won or settled, his and Patty's office would share some of the one-third portion with the bigger firm spearheading the case.
While going after the drug-makers may seem like a tough task, Young compared it to suits against tobacco-makers in the late 1990s.
"This is similar in nature to what state governments did in the tobacco litigation, where they sued the manufacturers to recover the increased health costs and other costs they had to pay," Young said.
Young also said that while offsetting the costs accumulated with battling the opioid epidemic is important, the bigger picture involves the safety of the community.
"It's more than about money. It's about tightening down on the prescriptions," Young said. "It used to be that we could all go into a convenience store at one time and buy as much Sudafed as we wanted before the methamphetamine crisis, and now we all know that's regulated and behind the counter. The hope would be that it's going to address much more than just money."
Commissioner Bobby Winters said he's frustrated with the prescription abuse and wonders how the county got to the point where it now houses four different methadone clinics.
The newest of those establishments, the Ringgold Treatment Center on U.S. Highway 41 just past the Depot, drew criticism from Ringgold residents in 2016 when it tried opening its doors.
Commission Chairman Steven Henry said he's glad the board is taking the necessary steps to fix the growing problem.
"I think it's a great thing that we're being able to take some sort of stand," Henry said.