Camden may join opioid lawsuit


Camden County Attorney John Morrison, shown here in this April 16 file photo, said he plans to ask Camden Commissioners on Monday to join a national lawsuit against the makers and distributors of opioids. Morrison said the rising number of addiction and overdose cases because of the drug is driving up counties' response costs. Counties like Camden now find themselves paying more for law enforcement, ambulance crews, departments of social services and even the foster care system as children have to be removed from addicts' homes, he said.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, July 7, 2018

CAMDEN — Camden County is considering joining a national lawsuit that accuses opioid companies of fraud and causing a “public nuisance” in driving a deadly epidemic of the drugs' abuse.

Camden County Attorney John Morrison said Thursday he will propose the county join the lawsuit during Camden commissioners' meeting on Monday. If commissioners agree, Camden would join Pasquotank County and many other local governments in suing opioid manufacturers and distributors and seeking major damages from them.

Opioid overdoses have been a growing problem in Camden and surrounding communities for years, Morrison said. The rising numbers of addictions and overdose cases are burdening the sheriff's office, ambulance crews under Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services, departments of social services and even the foster care system as children have to be removed from addicts' homes, he said.

The human toll also includes three people who died in 2016 from opioid overdoses in the county of about 10,000, Morrison said, citing the latest statistics he had available.

Morrison said he's been in contact with the same attorney, Garry Whitaker, who asked Pasquotank County to join a consortium of law firms going after opioid companies.

In that presentation, Whitaker argued that major drug companies have, over many years, downplayed the risks of opioid addiction while pushing doctors to prescribe them for chronic, long-term pain. Opioids are highly addictive and new medical guidelines generally recommend they be prescribed short-term for intense pain, such as after major surgeries.

Whitaker further alleged that the companies' conduct ran afoul of the Controlled Substances Act, under which they must report “suspicious orders.”

Based upon Whitaker's presentation, Pasquotank commissioners voted to hire the McHugh Fuller Law Group, a Mississippi-based firm and one of several major law firms suing the opioid makers.

Morrison declined to say exactly which firm he'd recommend Camden hire, but said the opioid litigation will require specialized and well-resourced attorneys.

Those firms are so well-resourced that they're working solely on a “contingent fee,” Morrison said, meaning they're not asking local governments for upfront payments. They'll instead ask for 25 percent of any damages or settlement coming out of the litigation, he said.

Morrison also said that, if the firm is hired, he would act as a point of contact for the firms but not be directly involved in the litigation. He would provide information, such as impacts to law enforcement and other Camden services, he said.