Bexar County will have its day in court against several dozen opioid manufacturers next year according to county officials.
A state judge in Harris County set October 2020 for the suit to be heard by a jury. Bexar County filed suit against 50 big-name pharmaceutical companies last year alleging they committed fraud, misrepresentation and deceptive trade practices that lead to an opioid crisis. The suit is seeking $1 billion in damages.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the lawsuit could be like the tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s which saw tobacco companies come under fire. Wolff said in those cases, counties did not receive much back from damages collected.
“It is important for the county to take the lead [because] in the [the tobacco cases] the state took the lead, the counties were not even at the table and a few bucks came down to the local level with most of the money being controlled by the State of Texas,” Wolff said. “So by being early… we have a greater opportunity to bring the money here.”
Bexar County’s lawsuit includes major companies such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson and Johnson.
Prescription opioid drugs are often used as painkillers. One such drug is OxyContin, which is made by Purdue. Under misuse, OxyContin and similar drugs can cause addiction and overdose.
The suit claims the companies “knew that their products were dangerous and highly addictive.”
Statistics provided by Bexar County show that more than 600 people died from opioid-related causes between 2011 and 2015, and 2,300 cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome occurred around the same time period.
The County’s lawsuit seeks to recover damages and fund recovery initiatives.
“We are seeking economic damages – actual costs incurred by Bexar County – going back to 2008. We’re also seeking funding for a mitigation plan to mitigate the opioid crisis and addition crisis and the addiction crisis in our community moving forward,” said TJ Mayes. Mayes is a partner with Phipps, Deacon, and Purnell, the law firm representing the county.
Bexar County and the City of San Antonio have formed a joint task force with a goal of reducing the number of opioid overdoses.
A statement from Purdue Pharma said the company “vigorously denies the allegations in the lawsuits filed against the Company and will continue to defend itself against these misleading attacks… We believe that no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue, and since 2000, we have pursued more than 60 different initiatives in collaboration with governments and law enforcement agencies on this difficult social issue.”
Pharmaceutical companies have faced a barrage of lawsuits. Last week, a case between the State of Oklahoma and Johnson and Johnson ended its closing arguments, as reported by NPR.
Bexar County is hoping for a jury trial and not a settlement.
”The pharmaceutical companies are very interested in settling these cases for a variety of reasons,” Mayes said. “The first is that if you settle a case it will cost them less than going to trial, the second is if they settle a case they won’t be held accountable in a public forum. One of our primary interests in this case is ensuring they are held accountable in a public forum… We have every intention of going to trial next October.”