FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners declined Tuesday to take action on a nationwide effort to sue pharmaceutical companies that make and distribute opiates.
A lawyer for the class-action lawsuit said the move was a “great disservice” to the county and could mean the loss of $50,000 to $1 million if the suit is successful.
More than 20 counties and municipalities in Maine had joined the suit, which accuses manufacturers and distributors of opioids of fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of the drugs.
Only one other entity so far — Oxford County — has rejected the suit, though Sumner Lipman, a lawyer with the firm Lipman & Katz, said his firm is working to convince Oxford County to reconsider. He said the county was in the midst of personnel changes, and now that they have been resolved, the county has agreed to reconsider the suit.
“We, the attorneys, are handling all the costs,” Lipman said. “Every other county basically sees this as a win-win, and for some reason the commissioners in Franklin County are denying their residents some of the money that will be received.”
Commissioners did not discuss the suit Tuesday but moved to table the proposal indefinitely.
Commissioner Charlie Webster said afterward that he did not see the suit coming up again for consideration. He said commissioners “don’t want to become political” by joining the lawsuit.
Webster said that over time, several outside groups have approached Franklin County about joining lawsuits or other efforts, and the county tries to stay independent. He said he is not particularly opposed to the opioid lawsuit, though the two other commissioners, Terry Brann and Clyde Barker, have said they oppose it.
The suit is still under discussion in Knox County, Lipman said. Abby Shanor, clerk for the Oxford County commissioners, said in an email she could not comment on the lawsuit and was not fully aware of the situation.
Earlier this month in Franklin County, Brann and Barker said they felt the suit was unnecessary.
“Where is this going to end?” Brann said on Aug. 7. “Are we going to sue auto manufacturers because of accidents? Are we going to sue the alcohol industry because of accidents that occur? I don’t see a difference.”
Lipman responded to that statement Tuesday, saying, “If an auto manufacturer decided to sell a car it knew had a steering defect, they would be responsible for the injuries that car did. In this case, the drug manufacturers and distributors realized oxycodone is an extremely addictive drug; and rather than tell people that, they marketed it and said, ‘You want to use these drugs so you don’t feel any pain.’ That was the standard of care.”
“Maybe if Franklin County doesn’t have any drug addicts, I can understand it,” Lipman said. “But every other county has dealt with this. This is a national crisis.”