City files suit against opioid manufacturers, distributors


JASPER — The City of Jasper has filed a lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of opioids, kicking off what could be a yearslong process that at least one city official hopes leads to a plan to attack the epidemic in the area.

The city’s Board of Public Works and Safety approved an agreement this morning with Taft Stettinius & Hollister, an Indianapolis law firm that will represent the city moving forward.

“At the end of the day, what’s happened is drug distributors and manufacturers have failed to accurately depict the addictive qualities of those drugs and have purposely downplayed those addictive qualities and pushed them into the hands of physicians who believed what they read and heard and prescribed,” said city attorney Renee Kabrick. “And so now we have this huge epidemic of people addicted to opioids, leading to other drug use.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and more.

According to the Associated Press, about 100 people in Indiana die from drug overdoses every month. Many of those deaths stem from opioids.

Kabrick explained that suits have been filed across the country against both manufacturers and distributors of opioids, and Jasper is joining in. She clarified that the city is not joining a class-action lawsuit, but filed its own with Taft Stettinius & Hollister.

From a damage perspective, the basis of the nationwide lawsuits is that opioids drain tax dollars by prompting the opening of rehabilitation centers and the building of new jails, Kabrick said. She said the city has not yet put a pencil to what Jasper would be able to prove in the way of damages.

The firm contacted the city in fall 2017 and enquired if opioids were impacting Jasper, and Kabrick said it took awhile to analyze and determine if they were. She said it’s an issue that “sneaks up” on a community. She met with the city’s police chief, fire chief and mayor, and said the group was unsure what damages they could prove.

Though they aren’t city issues, she then pointed to the explosion of the Court Appointed Special Advocates program — which trains volunteers to represent the best interests of children who are part of the court system due to abuse or neglect, oftentimes due to addiction —  and the need to build a new county jail as signs that opioids are having an impact locally. The city decided to file the claim because they didn’t want to lose it to the statute of limitations, which was approaching later this month.

“At the end of the day, the real goal is not to just get a pot of money so that we can spend it on something,” Kabrick said. “The real goal is to develop a plan to curtail the problem. And so, that will be another part of the analysis. What do we need to do locally to minimize the effect and to help the people that have already been impacted by it.”

Kabrick estimated that under ordinary circumstances, the lawsuit would take about five years to be resolved in court, but noted similar lawsuits in Ohio were consolidated and a representative at Taft said the judge has “put the gas pedal down” on those cases and crunched their timeline, Kabrick said. They are set to go to trial in March 2019, and if the plaintiffs are successful, that could be a good sign for the city.

“That will be huge for us and for communities like us who are out here just starting,” Kabrick said. “Because if they’re successful, then more than likely the distributors and the manufacturers are gonna start wanting to settle cases. If they’re not successful, I think the firm will push more cases and try to figure out how to do things differently.”

Next, the city will meet with Taft Stettinius & Hollister to discuss data that will be used to calculate damages and develop the long-term plan of attack.

More on