Watson explains reasoning for opioid lawsuit
COUNTY (Sept. 13, 2018) – Macoupin County State’s Attorney Jennifer Watson says she filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors and other groups late last month in an effort to show that the county will no longer tolerate their contributions to the opioid epidemic.
“Macoupin County has an opioid problem, along with Illnois in general — and the United States for that matter — and I think it’s important to let the manufacturers and distributors know that we’re not going to stand for that,” Watson said. “They need to answer for the harm that has been caused to this county based upon the distribution and manufacturing of these opioids. I think that so many resources are being used, the county has had a detriment — hospitals, emergency services, ambulances, law enforcement, the coroner, public health, Maple Street Clinic, teachers, schools in general, students, the criminal justice system — it just trickles down all over. We’ve all been affected in some way, shape or form by this epidemic. It’s time for us to stand up and say we’re not going to stand for it anymore.”
Similar lawsuits have been filed in other area counties, including Jersey, Madison and St. Clair counties, Watson said. Though she could have joined with one or more of those counties, she opted not to do so. “I thought that filing the lawsuit in Macoupin County was important to keep it here in the county,” she said. “If it was joined with other counties, it would be filed elsewhere, possibly even in federal court. We’re so far removed when that happens, and I just think it’s important to keep the lawsuit here in Macoupin County.” As far as she knows, the other lawsuits have not yet reached their conclusions. “This is pretty new litigation; I know that some counties had filed last year, but I don’t know of any outcomes that I’ve heard about in the media or anything like that, at this point.”
Watson said she first started looking into the possibility of filing the lawsuit around the beginning of this year, after hearing about the other counties doing so. She was approached by attorneys from various law firms, seeking to represent the county in the lawsuit, but decided to go with Simmons Hanly Conroy. “I’m with them because they’re the experts,” she said. “They’re the ones who handle mass consumer protection lawsuits, mass torts, and that sort of thing. I typically handle county stuff and prosecutions, but I knew that this was something that I wanted to do… I was specifically interested in Simmons Hanly Conroy because of their reputation. They’re very successful, and I felt confident with joining their team and asking them to come and help represent the county in the lawsuit.” One benefit to using that law firm, she said, is that they have an office in Alton. “Although one of the attorneys is in New York and they have offices in California, they did have one that was close. I felt that was important as well, that we had somebody that was tied to the state of Illinois.”
Watson said she does not know exactly how much time has been spent on the lawsuit, because she has been responsible for the county-specific section, while the other attorneys handled the sections pertaining to the historical background, national statistics, etc. “I’m here to represent Macoupin County, and so what’s specific to Macoupin County is my portion, what I do,” she said. Macoupin County Coroner Brad Targhetta provided Watson with statistics regarding opioid fatalities in the county; he declined to comment for this article.
Watson is confident that the county will be successful in the lawsuit. “I absolutely think that we will get the outcome we are seeking,” she said. “I think that there’s a good cause of action in this case.” If by some chance the county is not successful, however, she said there will only be minimal costs to the county, such as filing fees, because her work on the lawsuit is included as part of her salary, and the other attorneys will only charge the county if there is a settlement or judgment in the county’s favor.
Kent Tarro, administrator of Macoupin County Public Health Department, which operates an opioid treatment center in Gillespie, fully supports Watson’s efforts in the lawsuit. “The lawsuit initiated by our State’s Attorney Jennifer Watson is definitely spot-on!” he said. “I believe it is 100 percent warranted, correct, and righteous. It is a fantastic way to educate the public regarding how, when and where this deadly, long-term public health problem originated from, and highlights the death and destruction of human lives, families and communities, including the financial devastation it has caused and continues to cause here in Macoupin County and throughout the nation.”
He continued, “I believe the behavior of certain people and companies is criminal, immoral and the worst form of misinformation and misleading education and marketing I have ever seen in my 36 years in the public health and health care fields. The outcome I would like to see as a result of this lawsuit includes payment to all families who have lost loved ones for their personal, emotional and financial loss; payment to all treatment and recovery centers for their past, present and future cost to help all persons with addiction with their treatment and recovery; and a return of all corporate profits received as a result of opioid sales from all companies involved in this tragedy to finance all systems, agencies and personnel throughout the country who continue to work to prevent addiction and work with persons with addictions who receive professional treatment and recovery services.”
Only two of the defendants responded to requests for comment prior to press time.
A representative from Janssen Pharmaceuticals said, “Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis. Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible. The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among this class of medications.”
“This suit is one of several Illinois county lawsuits naming the Academy as a defendant,” said Megan Wright Drumm, director of marketing and communications for the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “AAPM is hoping to be dismissed from these lawsuits because we believe the claim against the Academy has no merit.”
Watson said the defendants have 30 days, from the date they were served with the lawsuit, to respond. Once their responses are received, a hearing date will be set.