OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma County has joined over 50 other cities and counties in the state to prosecute drug companies for damages caused by the opioid epidemic.
All three county commissioners voted Wednesday to approve a contract with the Fulmer Sill law firm to sue opioid manufacturers, The Oklahoman reported.
The decision comes at the end of the state's trial against consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson, which alleges the New Jersey-based company and its subsidiaries created a public nuisance by aggressively promoting the highly addictive drugs. Oklahoma could receive up to $17.5 billion in abatement costs.
"The staggering nature of the problem created by the opioid crisis is imposing costs on all of us," said Commissioner Kevin Calvey, who led the initiative for the county. "And it's important that we look out for the taxpayers and try to recover some of those costs from those who knew or should have known the impact of their actions."
The opioid crisis has increased the county's costs in policing, jailing and providing treatment services to residents, he added.
"The total cost to our community, not just government but our community — it's over $379 million. That's a staggering figure," Calvey said. "For Oklahoma County, it's over $23.5 million."
Fulmer Sill lawyers said they expect to pursue "tens of millions of dollars" for the county. The county's lawsuit will target some of the same opioid companies the state focused its efforts on, which include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and others.
Calvey noted that should the county win its case, he hopes all funds would be devoted toward mental health and substance abuse treatment and diversion programs.
Fulmer Sill attorney Alex Yaffe said they intend to act swiftly and file the petition within the next week in Oklahoma County.
Lawyer Matt Sill said he expects the county to work together with Oklahoma City, which is also involved in litigation against opioid manufacturers.