Tuesday, July 16, 2019 Elyria 81°

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Elyria City Council set to vote on opioid lawsuit


ELYRIA — In the lawsuit Elyria plans to file against the makers of opioid drugs, a case will be made for how costly and widespread the epidemic has become in the city.

Law Director Scott Serazin will present legislation Monday during a City Council meeting to approve entering into a contract with local attorney Brian Balser to sue drugmakers.

Balser, who once worked on litigation against the makers of the banned Fen-Phen diet drug, will work on the city’s behalf in what could turn into a long and complicated legal fight. He will work for the city on a contingency basis, which will mean the city is not responsible for any upfront costs but would pay a 25 percent fee if the lawsuit is successful.

City Council’s Finance Committee has approved the legislation, and a vote by full Council is expected Monday.

“The lawsuit will take the same shape as the opioid lawsuit the city of Lorain filed, although we haven’t gotten to the point of who will be the defendants,” Serazin said. “We know we want to go after the drug manufacturers who put out misleading information to doctors that led to patients getting hooked on these drugs.”

Serazin said the case likely will take years to be settled and likely will be consolidated with similar cases that are being filed across the state.

“But it is better to be in and at the table than to not be represented at all,” he said.

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.

There is no clear-cut way to determine what, if anything, Elyria could see as compensation, but Serazin said Elyria is one of few cities its size that maintains a narcotics unit in its police department.

“The cost of keeping the drug unit going is a lot for city, and that could be a factor,” he said.

Mayor Holly Brinda said that depending on the year, the cost to have the narcotics unit varies between $600,000 and $700,000.

“Last year was especially high because of heavy surveillance costs,” she said. “Last year, the chief estimated that with the salaries and benefits of the five officers plus expenses out of the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, we were probably at over $772,000.”

The figures are estimates because there were times when detectives assigned to another part of the investigative unit assisted in narcotics enforcement, and there were times when the narcotics detectives assisted in investigations not related to drugs.

Because the city is self-insured in terms of how it deals with employee health insurance, Serazin said, the lawsuit could even look at employee health care costs associated with any employee who sought treatment through the city’s self-funded insurance.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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