After holding two executive sessions over the last two weeks to discuss possible opioid litigation, Grayson County Commissioners picked the local firm of Sanders, Motley, Young & Gallardo on Tuesday to represent the county against the manufacturers of opioid medications.
The planned suit is similar to the way various counties sued tobacco companies a few decades ago. In that instance, Texas won a $15 billion settlement from the litigation. It was the largest single case settlement in U.S. history. And law firms representing Texas ultimately were awarded $3.3 billion to be paid out over 25 years, according to an April 2016 article in the Dallas Morning News.
Grayson County started getting funds from the tobacco settlement in 1999 and received $1,678,173 in total. Grayson County Auditor Richey Rivers said in the first few years it received the money, the county used some of it to support health department program deficits. The currently has about $1.3 million in the tobacco settlement fund and officials anticipate it will get another $75,000 in 2018 based on its uncompensated health care costs. Rivers said while the county has designated those funds for health care expenditures for the public, the state put no restrictions on the county’s use of the money.
Commissioners didn’t say when Grayson County might be included in any opioid litigation, just that it seems like a good idea to get a plan in place sooner rather than later. The court also considered the Pelly firm as its local representative.
More than 400 federal lawsuits have been brought by governmental agencies throughout the country against pharmaceutical companies. The governments claim the drug companies advertised pain relief drugs as safe even though those drugs turned out to be not only highly addictive, but, in many cases, also lethal.
The Center for Disease Control says there were more 42,000 opioid overdoses in the U.S. in 2016. However, law enforcement in Grayson County has said in the past that opioids are not the problem here that they are in some places in the country.
Nevertheless, the area did have one doctor who was accused of over prescribing the drugs to the point that some of his patients are alleged to have died from overdosing on them. Dr. Howard Diamond is awaiting trial in the Eastern District of Texas on those charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges he faces.
In addition to a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute charge, Diamond has also been charged with money laundering and abetting, distribution of controlled substances and health care fraud, and aiding and abetting. The charges link Diamond’s prescriptions to the overdose deaths of seven people.