Travis County has filed its lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry over prescription drug opioids, joining hundreds of other cities and counties seeking damages for the toll that opioid addiction has taken on their communities.
Travis officials announced the filing of the lawsuit Monday, nearly two months after Travis commissioners voted to pursue legal action against the companies that produce, distribute and develop advertising for the prescription painkillers.
“As elected officials, it is our responsibility to protect constituents from those who wish to take advantage of their pain to make a quick dollar,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said in a statement Monday. “The filing of this lawsuit is a first step to recovery.”
Travis County’s lawsuit joined the fray shortly after settlement talks began last week on more than 250 federal lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies and distributors over the nation’s opioid epidemic. The attorneys general of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia were in court last week for the start of negotiations.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland has been assigned to oversee what many plaintiffs hope will be a global settlement with the pharmaceutical industry that would also encompass lawsuits filed in state courts. Comparisons are being made to the 1998 lawsuit settlement against tobacco companies that resulted in an agreement to pay $206 billion to 46 states over a 25-year period.
It was not immediately clear Monday whether Travis County’s lawsuit would be incorporated into those settlement talks or handled separately. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore and outside counsel will work on the case.
Communities across the country have been ravaged by an epidemic that involves highly addictive painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, their generic equivalents and deadly street drugs like fentanyl and heroin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said 42,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2016, a number that’s expected to climb even higher once 2017 deaths are tallied later this year.
This story includes reporting from the Associated Press.