ALLEN COUNTY — To combat the opioid crisis in region, Allen County Prosecutor Juergen Waldick has pushed for the county to join a lawsuit created by other municipalities that puts the financial responsibility for the societal problems caused by opioid use onto Big Pharma.
This past week, Waldick has decided to put a proposal by Cory, Meredith, Witter & Smith LPA in front of the Allen County Commissioners in order for them to decide whether to use the law firm to represent the county in the national lawsuit.
The local law firm would provide evidence of opioid’s effects on the county to the national firms leading the case. If commissioners were to vote yes on the proposal, their resolution would go in front of a common pleas judge for final approval.
“If (pharmaceutical companies) are at fault, they should pay the price,” Waldick said.
Hiring the local firm would not cost the county any funds. Instead, Cory, Meredith, Witter & Smith LPA would receive a portion of the case’s payout.
Allen County’s case would join more than 250 others being consolidated under a federal judge in Cleveland, Judge Dan Polster, who has opened up discussions between municipalities and pharmaceutical companies. Waldick said the case will most likely last years before it is resolved, and it will need to go into the discovery phase before pharmaceutical companies begin to consider a payout.
“The people with the money aren’t going to pay out until they absolutely have to and as little as possible — that’s the whole idea,” Waldick said. “I think the judge is a little optimistic when he thinks this is going to get settled shortly.”
A total of 36 people died due to fentanyl use in Allen County in 2016, which jumped from 15 deaths in 2015. That number has most likely risen for 2017, to the point that Allen County is seeing roughly one opioid overdose a week, Waldick said.
Waldick anticipates any funds gained from the case will be put into some sort of superfund, which will then be doled out according to need.
Until then, Waldick is looking at preventing individuals from getting addicted in the first place as well as increasing the punishments for opioid drug dealers, especially for repeat offenders.
“I think there’s this naive perception that drug dealing is a victimless-crime sort of thing. Well, baloney. As it’s being given to people that are becoming addicted, we’re creating this problem. On one hand we need prevention. On the other hand, treatment, but we cannot forgot about punishment and dealing with it on the court side,” Waldick said.
Unlike past drug problems, Waldick has started pushing for prosecution of those administering the drugs — individuals giving others drugs at the addicted persons request — when that use leads to an overdose in order to prevent more from using the drug.
“The opiate-addicted defendant doesn’t care whether they get caught. They will say to us, ‘I don’t care I got caught as long as I get my fix,’” Waldick said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.