MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A public health crisis in Minnesota has turned in a legal fight.
Twenty Minnesota county attorneys announced Thursday that they are suing the companies that make and distribute opioids.
Opiate-based pain medications are powerful and highly addictive. Some drug companies are now facing a flurry of civil lawsuits.
The death of Prince last year from an accidental overdose of an opioid pain medication, was a wake-up call — provoking many to ask questions about prescription painkillers like fentanyl and oxycodone.
Janie Colford knows the dangers of opioids all too well.
“It just puts your family in chaos, in and out of chaos, because the cycle is recovery, relapse, recover, relapse,” she said.
She serves on the board of a non-proft dedicated to ending addiction and overdose deaths. Her nephew died of an opioid overdose and her son has struggled with addiction for years.
And while they may not have been prescribed opioids, Colford said they were readily available.
“The reason they were even around opioids — opioids were around is because they were being prescribed so plentifully, irresponsibly,” she said.
She thinks it’s past time county attorneys hold the opioid drug manufacturers and distributors liable.
“This is a public nuisance and they need to help us clean it up,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput.
County attorneys and commissioners announced their plans to file civil lawsuits in each of their counties: Ramsey, Hennepin, Washington, Dakota, Mower and St. Louis.
Their target is opioid drug manufacturers and distributors, who they accuse of fraudulent marketing and negligent distribution.
“What we seek by filing these suits is accountability and restitution, that’s what we’re looking for,” Orput said. “This isn’t a money grab. This is asking them to help us pay for the crisis they’ve put in our laps.”
Last year, 395 Minnesotans died from an opioid overdose, and half of them from prescription pills.
“I got to tell you, it’s so bad that when my phone rings at night, I go into post traumatic stress because it will be something like [Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry] calling and saying, ‘Another dead kid, Pete, another dead kid,'” he said.
The Duluth area has seen the impact opioid addiction is having families and child protective services.
“This is affecting the babies in our community,” said the St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin. “Neonatal abstinence syndrome. Babies are being born addicted to these drugs.”
More counties are expected to file lawsuits, which seek restitution for the expenses from the opioid crisis from law enforcement costs and social services to medical care and treatment of patients.
About 70 similar lawsuits have been filed across the nation.