Sunday, June 23, 2019 Elyria 72°

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Elyria Council initiates process to sue over opioids


ELYRIA — Council wants Elyria to join the legal war against big pharmaceutical companies, including manufacturers and distributors, for their role in the region’s opioid epidemic.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, local attorney Brian Balser, who worked on litigation against the makers of the banned Fen-Phen diet drug, said the lawsuit is the city’s way of fighting back against the companies that served as catalysts for the state’s drug problem.

“This litigation will take some time. It is in its infancy, but the time to get involved is now,” Balser said. “… They are not concerned about community safety. The laws are in place because of community safety, and I am a big proponent that lawsuits are also about community safety.”

Law Director Scott Serazin said the lawsuit would not cost the city anything up front. Balser will represent the city on a contingency basis and will receive payment only if the lawsuit is successful.

“They are not class-action suits, but the lawsuits will end up grouped together to be dealt with,” he said. “It will have to address multiple plaintiffs and the same defendants. The cost of that can be expensive, but it will not be on the city.”

Serazin said if the lawsuit was something Council wanted to consider, he would begin drafting legislation to authorize Balser to sue on the city’s behalf.

“This is bigger, and requires a special expertise,” he said. “… It is going to take years for sure, but we need someone who will represent us. We have a drug unit. We have had a lot of deaths here. Really, all of Northeast Ohio is the epicenter of this thing.”

Council members seemed to agree Monday, urging Serazin to immediately take the next steps to sue.

By filing a lawsuit, Elyria joins cities including Lorain and Dayton in the fight for financial compensation. The lawsuit also will be similar to one filed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward, worried about how the doctors would fare in the lawsuit, meaning the pharmaceutical companies could just shift the blame.

“Don’t the doctors bear some of the responsibility?” she said. “They are the ones prescribing the drugs.”

Balser explained to Mitchell that the pharmaceutical companies likewise deceived the medical community by telling them their drugs would be good for patients and were not addictive.

“We rely on our doctors, and our doctors rely on these companies,” he said. “I don’t have to take the time to explain the harm that has been done because of this epidemic. Not when 80 percent of heroin users have reported it started because of opioid prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical companies were deceptive of what the drugs would do.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or Follow on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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