Delaware County Commissioners began the process to enter into the multi-district litigation against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid medications during their regular meeting Thursday.

The commissioners approved appointing the law firm of Taft Stettinius and Hollister LLP, Delaware, to represent, prosecute, and defend on the behalf of the board.

Commissioner Barb Lewis said in working with other departments such as the prosecutor’s office, the sheriff’s office, and judges, she has “seen the scourge of the opioid epidemic in Delaware County.”

Lewis said she voted to join the litigation against the manufactures and distributors of the opioid medication because it has “crippled our community.”

“… they owe us and should help us pay the cost of the terrible damage they have caused. … the opioid crisis is everywhere and it is affecting everyone,” she said in her statement. “The problem is obvious, and it is disheartening. Many good families in our community are terribly afflicted by the opioid addiction. At the same time, due to these lifetime addictions, every Delaware County taxpayer is facing the increased cost of emergency services, hospitalization, and recovery services.”

Lewis said by joining the litigation, based on a contention recovery fee, it will not cost the taxpayers any money. She said that in the long run, the taxpayers will save “thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent on recovery and prevention efforts.”

“I’m convinced that the legal counsel we are retaining is top notch and dedicated to achieving a prompt and favorable result for Delaware County,” she said. “I wish the retained counsel all successes in achieving full justice for Delaware County.”

Commissioner Gary Merrell said it was a tougher decision for him because he sees both a philosophical and a pragmatic perspective to it.

“The doctors that over-prescribed, and those who provided the drugs illegally, should also play a role in this,” he said. “I really think that the doctors who are involved in this should be part of this philosophically, but it’s just not practical.”

However, he did feel as a commissioner he has a “fiscal responsibility” to the taxpayers.

“It’s believed there will ultimately be a settlement and if we don’t participate in this, the taxpayers in this county would not be able to participate in the settlement,” he said. “For practical reasons I support it. Philosophically, I do have some concerns that the part of the villains in this are not part of the lawsuit and are not being affected and paying their fair share of it.”

David Butler, of Taft Stettinius, and Hollister LLP, said the consolidation will go before Judge Dan Polster of the United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio, in Cleveland. He said Polster is taking a very active role to bring a resolution within this year.

“They need a strong judge who is willing to put the time and effort into it,” Butler said. “Judge Polster has made it very clear how deeply he cares about this crisis. Whether he is successful or not we’ll see, but he is going to do everything he can to try and get it done. He has a lot of ambition.”

Butler said if there is a resolution that Delaware County will share in it, but if it’s not settled, the case will run the typical course in the court.

Butler said the next step in the process is that the prosecutor’s office will apply to the Delaware County Common Pleas Court to allow the county to enter into the contingency contract.

“Once that application is made, Judge (Everett) Krueger or Judge (David) Gormley will sign off on approving the contract,” he said. “We’ll then file the complaint in federal court for the Southern District of Ohio. The case will then get transferred up to a multi-litigation … where similar cases have been filed throughout the country and being consolidated before one judge.”

Prosecutor Carol O’Brien states in the application to appoint legal counsel, “The appointment of legal counsel is needed due to the scope and complexity of the litigation and the inability of the prosecutor to devote existing resources to the litigation as requested by the board.”

Commissioner Jeff Benton was out of town and could not attend the session.

By D. Anthony Botkin

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Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.