Clallam County to join opioid lawsuit

Clallam County has decided to join the local governments that are suing manufacturers and wholesalers of opioid-based prescription drugs.

Commissioners voted 3-0 on Jan. 30 to retain the Seattle law firm Keller Rohrback and file suit in federal court to recover the cost of fighting the opioid epidemic locally.

Attorneys from Keller Rohrback will be paid only if the county recovers damages in a settlement or at trial.

“The simple fact is Clallam County has a significant problem with opioids, with the number of opioid deaths the highest within the state,” Commissioner Bill Peach said before last week’s vote.

“I really do appreciate the action that the Department of Health has taken to say we must be proactive, and this is one of the actions.”

The opioid-related death rate in Clallam County was 16.5 per 100,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to state Department of Health statistics.

Mason County had the second-highest opioid death rate at 14.7 per 100,000, health officials said. Jefferson County’s opioid-related death rate was 10.3 per 100,000, ranking No. 10 among the 39 counties of the state.

King County, the city of Tacoma, Skagit County and the cities Mount Vernon, Burlington and Sedro Woolley have each filed similar lawsuits against Big Pharma.

More than 250 claims have been filed claims in federal courts nationwide. They are being consolidated under Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland, who is bringing together lawyers for governments across the country, drug makers, distributors and others, the Associated Press reported last week.

Since the aim is to broker a settlement, the judge has closed the discussions to the public and media.

The Clallam County Board of Health, which includes the three commissioners, voted 7-0 on Jan. 16 to recommend that the county pursue litigation.

“The Board of Health was strong in its endorsement of this course of action, and I think it is indicative of the significant impact — negative impact — that the opioid crisis is having here in our county,” Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias said.

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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