Gallatin County joined a lawsuit Tuesday with Cascade County against several pharmaceutical companies, claiming they didn’t do enough to warn individuals about the risk of addiction to opioid drugs. The lawsuit will be paid for completely by local law firm, Beck, Amsden & Stalpes.
The Missouri River Drug Task Force reports that there were 58 opioid overdoses in Gallatin County this past year.
The lawsuit says pharmaceutical companies have downplayed the danger of opioids by claiming the risk of addiction is unlikely. These companies have also told doctors that signs of addiction are actually signs of undertreated pain and that patients should be given more opioids for the pain.
The complaint also alleges that pharmaceutical manufacturers made doctors feel at ease about prescribing opioids with patient contracts, addiction risk screening tools and other strategies. Pharmaceutical companies reportedly focused on family doctors and general practitioners who didn’t the time or expertise to monitor high-risk patients.
Gallatin and Cascade counties are asking for the pharmaceutical companies to stop misleading advertising and to pay for the harm they may have caused in the counties because of opioids.
Gallatin County Court Services reported that they spend about $103,666 of tax money every year because of opioid abuse.
Justin Stalpes, the attorney representing Gallatin County, told commissioners that that lawsuit is about “accountability for the pharmaceutical manufacturers who have misled the community.”
“I believe the opioid use and misuse in this valley, in this county, needs to be addressed,” Gallatin County Commissioner Don Siefert said. “I think we need to hold those responsible accountable.”
Seifert added that he hopes Gallatin County receives an award in the lawsuit and that money could be used to fund programs that combat opioid addiction problems.
Not everyone agrees with Gallatin County’s decision about filing the lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers. Bozeman pharmacist Diane Oddy urged for commissioners to obtain more information before going through with the lawsuit because she worried that their decision may raise prices for patients who actually need pain medication.
“If they are in pain, I want them to get the right pain medication in the right amount,” Oddy said.
Cascade County made the decision to sue opioid makers last week during a commission meeting and retained the law firm, Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, PC., Kovacich Snipes P.C. The lawsuit seeks damages to help with opioid abuse recovery and the ability to provide more resources that will raise awareness of opioid abuse in the county.
“More than 100 Montanans die each year from drug overdose, 42% of that attributed to opioids. It is the #3 leading cause death in Montana, only behind motor vehicle accidents and suicides,” attorney Ben Snipes said. “It is a far-reaching economic problem for Cascade County. It affects multiple facets of our county government and it is very expensive.”