The Whitesburg City Council voted Tuesday night to authorize Mayor James Wiley Craft to join a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies over the effects on the communities caused by opioid abuse.
A presentation from Texas based law firms involved in the case was discussed by the council during its March meeting Tuesday night. Cities, counties and Native American tribes across the nation are filing suit against drug companies, citing the cost those communities have to bear as a result of opioid abuse.
The lawsuit Whitesburg is being asked to join names Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and others for misleading health care providers and consumers about the dangers of opioids.
The suit Whitesburg is being asked to join claims the companies are guilty of public nuisance, common law fraud, negligence, gross negligence, violation of the Controlled Substances Act, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), possible Deceptive Trade Practices, possible civil conspiracy, and abnormally dangerous activity.
The city would pay nothing unless the case is won, in which case the law firms would receive 5 percent of any award of more than $25 million, up to 25 percent of any award up to $10 million. Whitesburg and other municipalities and tribes involved in the suit would split the rest.
Craft said the statistics listed in the lawsuit are staggering in the scope of opiates dumped in the region by the companies, adding that there were 64,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year. He said that in Letcher Country, 81.5 oxycodone pills for every person in the county were sold legally last year. Craft added that 37.5 percent of the drugs obtained by addicts came from health care providers while only about six percent came from drug dealers. He said the narcotics epidemic has been devastating.
In other business, people who dump illegally in dumpsters rented by businesses in Whitesburg were put on notice that they will be cited and fined. Mayor Craft told the council that non-residents continually bring garbage, including larger items into the city to dump in dumpsters that have been rented by city businesses, and reminded the public the penalty for illegal use of the city dumpsters is a fine of $500. Craft directed Police Chief Tyrone Fields to inform his officers to pay particular attention to the illegal dumping.
“What amazes me is that we have mandatory garbage pick-up in the county.” said Craft. “Why do they want to bring it to Whitesburg?”
Police Chief Fields added that eastern Kentucky already has the highest rate of Hepatitis C in the nation. He said that people who rummage through the dumpsters looking for aluminum cans often leave the garbage they displace on the ground, and they expose themselves to risks from needles, broken glass, and other sharp objects.
Councilman Mike Jackson asked that discussion of the issues raised at last month’s meeting about Sunday alcohol sales in the ABC ordinance be tabled until the current General Assembly session closes. Jackson said that there are several bills and amendments in the Kentucky Senate that will affect alcohol sales and that it is pointless for the city to pass an ordinance that may be reversed or otherwise affected by action of the General Assembly. The council agreed to table discussion.