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The Opioid Epidemic in Wisconsin: Early 2018 Update

The Opioid Epidemic in Wisconsin: Early 2018 Update

Prescription bottles of oxycodone with spilled tabletsAt Casey Law Offices, S.C., our Milwaukee personal injury attorney represents Wisconsinites who have suffered all sorts of injuries, including those related to the national opioid crisis. In recent months, we published a three-part series, “The Opioid Epidemic in Wisconsin,” where we explored how and why the abuse of prescription opioid drugs has become a national crisis, pharmaceutical companies’ role in the growing epidemic, and how the government and individuals are holding these companies responsible. Due to the continued demand from our clients for information on this subject, we will continue offering regular updates on the opioid crisis.

Mass Tort Lawsuits Intended to Change Big Pharma Behavior, Recover Costs for Government, Individuals

To date, two-thirds of all Wisconsin counties filed lawsuits against the makers of prescription opioid painkillers in response to emerging evidence of their involvement with the epidemic. Each lawsuit alleges the companies engaged in fraudulent marketing of the painkillers that contributed to a nationwide public health crisis of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The lawsuits seek compensation for millions of dollars that the counties spent on social services, courts, law enforcement, health services, and emergency care in responding to the opioid epidemic.

Wisconsin counties join hundreds of other government entities throughout the country and tens of thousands of individuals who are participating in class action lawsuits. Earlier this month, the judge overseeing the federal opioid lawsuit said that he hopes a sweeping resolution with a “meaningful impact” can be worked out by the end of the year.

Casey Law Offices Weighs In On the Damages

What needs to be done in order to provide justice for those impacted by the ongoing opioid epidemic? It is the opinion of the legal team at Casey Law Offices that a just resolution to the lawsuits must provide a financial settlement that meets two requirements. It must first recoup the costs to individuals and governments that are associated with the opioid epidemic. The settlement or verdict must secondly change the behavior of the pharmaceutical companies related to marketing practices, and do so significantly enough to ensure they never play a role in a similar epidemic of addiction again.

What would be a fair dollar amount, given the circumstances? The White House Council of Economic Advisers recently raised its estimate of the epidemic’s annual cost from $78.5 billion to a staggering $504 billion. Healthcare accounts for much of this cost while expenses for lost productivity in nonfatal cases add another $20 billion, according to the journal published by Wolters Kluwer. A Princeton University study completed in the fall suggests that 20% of the reduction in male participation in our workforce is due to opioid use, and that nearly one-third of prime-working-age men who are not in the labor force are taking prescription pain medication on a daily basis.

Locally, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has requested $1.1 million in new funding in the county's 2018 budget to help two key agencies deal with the opioid crisis and addiction. Abele is also asking for an additional $700,000 for the Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction (AODA) residential program, which serves county residents who struggle with drug and or alcohol abuse.

While these costs are significant, they are only quantifiable, economic costs. How does one attach a cost to a life lost or permanently tarnished due to an opioid addiction? Consider that more than 22,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses in the United States in 2015. This marks an increase from 19,000 the year before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The victims in the crisis are our neighbors, friends, children, parents, and colleagues. For those of you have experienced a death in the family due to a drug overdose, you know the pain it has caused firsthand. For those who have not, we encourage you to read this article about a prominent family whose college-bound son succumbed to drug addiction: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/11/an-epidemic-from-which-no-one-is-safe/546773/

While it is too early to quantify a dollar amount needed to fully compensate states and families, Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John’s University in New York, said he could foresee a “low double-digit billion [dollar] settlement” as being needed.

We may get a glimpse as to how the justice system will determine settlement in the next few weeks. United States District Judge Dan Polster of the Northern District of Ohio will be listening to attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants in a mass tort case involving 200 opioid lawsuits on January 31st, 2018. Settlement talks are on the agenda and the judge has one goal in mind: find a way to settle the cases quickly.

Our Milwaukee opioid crisis attorney will be sure to keep posting important updates to our blog, which we invite you to frequent. If you believe you or a member of your family is a victim in the opioid crisis, we want to hear from you to understand your story. You can contact our offices by calling (414) 272-3776 and requesting a free consultation.

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