At their last meeting, the Dane County Board of Supervisors approved the county’s corporate lawyer to seek outside counsel, showing a clear picture of what local officials are hoping to achieve with the lawsuit.
According to the resolution, the board will not compensate any outside counsel unless the county receives a financial benefit from the lawsuit. Additionally, the county wants to engage in litigation alone rather than be a part of a joint lawsuit.
The resolution specifies that the county should take on “any pharmaceutical company, wholesale distributor, manufacturer, and/or other entity that engages in practices that contribute to the ongoing opioid epidemic within Dane County.”
Dane County, like most all other regions in the country, has seen a spike in opioid-related deaths since 2016, with more than 85 such deaths in 2016 compared to 13 in 2000. The resolution notes the number of opioid-related deaths jumped 130 percent from 2010 to 2016.
Over that same period, the rate of heroin-related deaths has tripled from 3.0 per 100,000 in 2000 to 10.1 per 100,000 in 2016.
Supervisor Hayley Young, District 5, said the decision to pursue this lawsuit was in part to keep pace with other municipalities doing the same and hold these corporations accountable.
“We do a lot of mental health and addiction treatment in our human services, but instead of just looking at it from a response side, going to the heart of the issue and the folks who have some culpability for what’s going on,” Young said.
Young added that when the resolution was circulating, sponsors noted how many other municipalities had also opted to sue pharmaceutical companies. Cities such as Seattle, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Dayton and Chicago have already entered into similar lawsuits.
“It’s just an example of local governments trying to leverage their power together,” said Young.