GUNS VS. OPIOIDS

The Ray County Commission made a sober and correct decision when members voted last week to contract with the Edgar Law Firm to sue those in the opioid industry who are responsible for this county’s health and crime-related suffering from opioids.

Some people, naively, suggest commissioners needed to have an omniscient-level of knowledge about every aspect of filing suit before agreeing to do so.

One questions is: How much money will the county get? The honest answer is: Your guess is as good as the next person’s. The county may win nothing. But the county could receive a settlement, or a verdict, worth tens of millions of dollars. No one will know until the case – like any other case, civil or criminal – goes through the entire legal process. The most likely result is the county will get from zero to a few million dollars.

Another question: If opioid makers are sued by Ray County and lose, won’t they then raise their prices to cover the losses? The honest answer: Drug prices have been going up dramatically and there is no end in sight, with or without the suit. Ray County’s suit represents a drop in the bucket compared to similar lawsuits already in progress, and which carry the liability of potentially billions in payouts. So, while paying a few million to settle Ray County’s suit is something drug companies can absorb easily, paying out billions is another matter. Again, regardless of the lawsuits, drug prices likely will go up. They went up by more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2017, U.S. News reported Feb. 6.

A final question: How long will reaching a verdict take? The honest answer: Too long for the winner and not long enough for the loser. Each side will gather facts, take depositions and argue about everything from where the case should be tried to which questions are fair to ask. A judge will play referee. A two-year decision would be on the extremely optimistic side and a 10-year decision would not be a surprise.

Three rational questions include:

• How much will filing suit cost the county?

• What percentage of a settlement would the county get after lawyers take their cuts, including for expenses?

• What will be done with whatever money the county might win?

The answers: The commission’s contract states the county will never pay a dime, regardless of how much fighting the suit costs the lawyers; the county will receive at least 75 percent of whatever amount is won; and the commission will seek the public’s advice on what to do with any winnings.

The bottom line to this issue is the county would pay nothing if the case is lost. If the case is won, then drug companies that are to blame for causing opioid-related suffering would be forced to pay damages to the county, as they should. The commission is right to seek compensation.

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