GREENSBORO — The city will join a nationwide lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of addictive painkillers for their roles in creating the opioid epidemic.
On Tuesday, the City Council agreed by consensus to join the suit “to respond to the serious public health and safety crisis involving opioid abuse, addiction, morbidity, and mortality within Greensboro,” according to a resolution on the matter.
It says “the opioid crisis unreasonably interferes with rights common to the general public of Greensboro,” and “involves a significant interference with the public health, safety, peace, comfort, and convenience of citizens and residents of Greensboro.”
It’s technically not a class-action suit, according to Mike Fox of the Tuggle Duggins law firm in Greensboro, one of the local attorneys who will handle the case. The city will be able to negotiate independently if leaders don’t feel the settlement is high enough, he said.
Hundreds of local governments across the country have joined the suit in an attempt to recoup the millions they’ve spent fighting opioid addiction and the fallout from related issues.
“This is something that is tearing our community apart,” Fox said. “The crisis is real, and communities like Greensboro all across the country are struggling to find a solution to it.”
Fox said the city will argue that manufacturers and distributors violated laws on drug distribution and reporting; were negligent by selling drugs they knew would cause harm; and were fraudulent in their claims that opioids are not as addictive as now believed.
The city will come up with a dollar amount of damages based on percentages of the city’s budget, including police and fire department spending. Fox said the city may also be able to include a percentage of costs for things like medication collection boxes, health insurance costs and services to the homeless.
It the city wins, the attorneys will keep 25 percent of the award, he said. The city would pay no more than 10 percent in fees, giving the city 65 percent of the total.
If the city loses, it pays nothing.
In 2017, there were more than 100 opioid-related deaths in Guilford County. In another 700 cases, overdoses were reversed with a drug called Narcan. Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths across the country in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Forty of North Carolina’s 100 counties already have joined the lawsuit. Guilford County joined the lawsuit in February.