Most residents probably aren’t aware that the national opioid epidemic has hit the Village of Oak Lawn as hard as any other community.
In 2017, the Oak Lawn Police responded to 17 calls for heroin or opioid overdoses. Naloxone, which is known as the “Lazarus Drug” and carried by police officers, was used to save 9 lives. Fire Department calls also resulted in the use of the drug and the saving of lives. One problem is that Oak Lawn pays $4,300 for each dose of Naloxone. So far, those costs have been covered by a grant but that money won’t last forever and Oak Lawn has developed a legal strategy to recover costs.
Municipalities like Oak Lawn and 10 other cities that filed suit last week, want to be reimbursed for those expenses as well as other damages connected to the opioid crisis.
Several previous lawsuits, including one by various counties in northern Illinois and another one by the City of Chicago were filed in federal court. Those lawsuits have been consolidated in Ohio for discovery purposes. The attorneys handling Oak Lawn’s lawsuit chose state court in order to avoid the multi-district litigation in federal court believing that the Illinois courts will provide a faster and better resolution for the municipalities.
Oak Lawn, Tinley Park, Melrose Park, Berkeley, Berwyn, Chicago Heights, Northlake, Pekin, and River Forest are named as plaintiffs in this case by their attorney, Edelson PC, of Chicago.
The lawsuit is being called the first “mass action opioid Illinois lawsuit” and was filed against numerous pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors and three Illinois doctors who are accused of running a “pill mill”. The defendant doctors operated a pain clinic in Melrose Park. It is unclear if their activities resulted in damages to Oak Lawn.
Oak Lawn and the other municipalities allege widespread harms and injuries resulting from the defendants’ role in fostering and perpetuating an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse in their communities.
The plaintiff municipalities claim several legal theories for the recovery of damages including, Public Nuisance, Negligence, Fraudulent Misrepresentation, Insurance Fraud, Violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, Unjust Enrichment, and two counts of Civil Conspiracy (against manufacturers and distributors as well as the three doctors). Plaintiffs seek an injunction against defendants as well as damages.
Oak Lawn’s Mayor Sandra Bury posted a Facebook message regarding the lawsuit on the day it was filed, writing:
Did you know that since 1990, THREE times more people have died from the opioid epidemic than the Vietnam war? The number of deaths from opioid use have actually caused the first reduction in life expectancy in our country since the 1960s. By 2010 enough prescriptions for opioids were written to “medicate every adult in the United States with a five-milligram dose of hydrocodone every four hours for an entire month.” More than 5,000 people begin misusing their opioid prescriptions every single day. On an annual basis, today the number of prescriptions written is about the size of the adult population in the United States.
This lawsuit demonstrates that drug companies intentionally falsified research to convince doctors as well as the public that opioids were not addictive when in fact the opposite is true. They put profit over our resident’s health, and Oak Lawn taxpayers are forced to pay the price while drug companies make staggering profits.
Just about everyone knows someone who has been impacted by this epidemic. We have to do something to stop and reverse this trend in our community. Doing nothing is not an option.”
Nobody is quite sure of the success of any of the opioid lawsuits that are being filed. Some attorneys have likened the lawsuits to the lucrative $240 billion tobacco settlements twenty years ago. However, public health experts have criticized those settlements recently in light of the fact that only a small part of the settlement money has ever been filtered down for its intended purpose of preventing children from becoming addicted to tobacco.
Instead, the money has been used for budget shortfalls and state slush funds over the years. Some states have used the funds to pay employees, build schools or roads or even in one extreme case, renovate a morgue. Unless the pharmaceutical companies give up and agree to a settlement, the villages will have to prove damages.
In 2017, the states received $7.3 billion in tobacco settlement money but only spent $492 million on efforts to prevent kids from smoking or other smoking cessation programs for adults. In the past five years, only ten percent of the money went to such efforts.
While Mayor Bury wasn’t clear on where the idea came from to join the lawsuit, Oak Lawn Trustee Robert Streit credited Village Attorney Paul O’Grady for bringing the idea to the board. “Our Village Attorney made a compelling argument for joining the lawsuit and the attorneys are taking the case on a contingency rather than charging us hourly,” said Streit.
Streit said that he agrees that the high costs associated with law enforcement and fire rescue as well as the village’s own expenses for healthcare for employees has been inflated by the actions of those responsible for the opioid epidemic. “Our attorney was on top of this issue and the entire board agreed with Paul (O’Grady) that we have nothing to lose by filing the lawsuit,” said Streit.
According to public health experts, the over prescription of opioids resulted in the United States consuming 80 percent of all pain relievers even though it makes up only five percent of the world’s population. Patients who become addicted to opioids often turn to heroin for pain relief resulting in increased costs on healthcare and the justice system.