By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – During a meeting of the Houston County Commissioner’s Court, held on Tuesday, Sept. 26, the commissioners were given a presentation on the opioid epidemic and asked to join in a lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers.

Tyler-based attorney Jack Walker, along with Crockett attorney Jody Griffith were on hand during the meeting to give a presentation on opioid litigation.

“Most of you may know we are in the midst of an opioid crisis in the United States. President Trump declared it as a national crisis last month. We are asking the court to consider retaining our firm (Martin Walker, P.C. Attorneys at Law), Jody’s firm (Griffith and Griffith, P.C.) and the firm of Simon Greenstone Panatier and Bartlett out of Dallas to represent the county in litigation against the opioid manufacturers,” Walker said.

As he continued, Walker provided a brief background on how the legal action came about. He explained during the 1990s, a conservative campaign was launched by the opioid manufactures/distributors to flood the market with opioids.

Walker said the campaign was a concerted effort from the opioid manufactures/distributors to “…convince the medical community and the public that opioids were safe for long term use of chronic pain. This is not the case. Opioids are very addictive. When we’re talking about opioids we are talking about things like OxyContin, Vicodin and now – chemically produced Fentanyl.”

He explained the campaign was fraudulently and aggressively marketed and did indeed flood the market which helped lead to the current crisis

“Without doing any long-term human studies, they ‘ghost-wrote’ studies that showed the drugs were safe for chronic pain and they paid massive amounts to market these items,” the attorney said.

“Some of the statistics are staggering,” Walker indicated. “The CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) did a study in 2015. It showed in 2012, there were 259 million prescriptions written for opioids. That is enough for every adult in the United States to have a 30-day supply. In 2015, it was found these opioid painkillers were more widely used than tobacco.”

Walker cited several of the statistics from the CDC and reported there 33,000 deaths in 2015 from opioids and that continues to rise. He said the number of deaths from opioid abuse is expected to top the 40,000 mark this year.

“The cost, annually, is estimated to be $75 billion. What is on the horizon is litigation to hold the opioid manufacturers and distributors liable for the cost it would cost this county,” he said.

The attorney said his firm was currently involved with several other counties and the cause of action would fall under the category of public nuisance.

He said some of the specific statistics for Houston County indicated the deaths by opioid abuse were higher than the national average.

After he distributed a document to the commissioners, Walker commented, “What this will tell you is that Houston County has a problem.”

He explained if the county joined in the litigation, it would not be charged but any awarded monies would have a 33 percent contingency attached.

As far as who the suit was being brought against, Walker said it would be the larger manufacturers/distributors such as Purdue, Endo Health Systems, Johnson and Johnson, McKesson and Cardinal.

The agenda item was for discussion purposes only and no action was taken on the matter.

Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.