2018-01-04 / Views

Suing ‘big pharma’ will help county, attorneys’

A column by Eric Carlson

Radical left-winger that some folks are certain I and all “mainstream” news media-types really are, I was heartened last month by an action taken by our predominantly conservative Leelanau County Board of Commissioners.

All seven commissioners — two Democrats and five Republicans — voted unanimously to interfere with free market economics. Their decision on Dec. 19, 2017, has the clear potential to infringe on the rights of certain private business owners to do whatever the heck they want.

In addition, the board’s action will insert our county government into a raging, politically-charged national controversy that involves issues way beyond the scope of what normally comes before county governments.

No, the County Board did not vote to adopt a resolution calling for the immediate shutdown of the Enbridge Line Five petroleum pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. Nor did they vote to set up an Affordable Housing Authority to counteract the many expensive vacation condos and mansions being built.

And they certainly did not vote to impose a septic inspection ordinance (yet) on Leelanau County property owners — even those who enjoy the patch of lush, green grass growing over their septic drain-fields.

Instead, the County Board voted 7-0 to join a cabal of slick, mostly downstate lawyers and a bunch of other municipalities in suing the pants off some American businessmen who are, after all, just trying to make a buck.

As a “mainstream” journalist, I’m all for that, of course.

Seriously, somebody needs to do something about Big Pharma and certain major prescription drug distributors who are at least partly responsible for the ongoing opioid epidemic in the U.S.

Allegedly, the manufacturers of these pain killers have been marketing them dishonestly, and distributors have been careless about distributing them. The result has been an epidemic of addiction to the drugs and a rise in the use of heroin and other illegal substances.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reportedly had the goods on several pharmaceutical companies and distributors in this regard.

But, for whatever reason, the U.S. Department of Justice was unable to follow through in prosecuting some of the worst offenders – at least not in a way that really hurt them. Those businesses are so profitable that the only way to hurt them is to take untold billions of dollars away from them — not just a few million.

The federal government’s failure to do what needs to be done to punish these companies and stop them from continuing their practices has apparently prompted some very savvy attorneys to see the potential in filing “multi-district litigation” against the companies in federal court.

The potential, of course, consists of a mega-zillion-dollar settlement after a few years of legal paper-shuffling, at which time the lawyers will collect 30-percent of the settlement amount plus expenses, with the remainder going to units of government that have joined the lawsuit.

The amounts that units of government like Leelanau County could receive from a settlement will depend on an accounting of how much money we’ve spent over the years chasing and jailing drug addicts or providing other kinds of “support” for coping with the drug crisis.

Just a few weeks ago, the County Board heard from several attorneys seeking to represent the county in the litigation, including a former, would-be Democratic candidate for Governor of Michigan, famous personal injury attorney Mark Bernstein.

If you had been at the Dec. 12, 2017, executive meeting of the County Board at which the attorneys appeared, you might have seen what I saw. There were the usual dollar signs in the eyes of the attorneys – dollar signs that quickly appeared in the eyes of county commissioners as well.

The good news is that joining this lawsuit is not likely to cost the county government a dime, and it could result in a nice chunk of change for county coffers if the lawsuit is successful.

I guess that’s a good thing.

Return to top