Fairfield mayor: City wants to have ‘a seat at the table’ in national opioid lawsuit

Fairfield has “suffered like many other communities,” and the city hopes to recoup some of its costs by joining a national prescription opiate class-action lawsuit.

City Council voted on Monday to file documents to join the federal court action that already includes about 1,800 local governments and municipalities.

“We haven’t run the numbers but Fairfield, like every other community out there, has some pretty big numbers fighting this epidemic,” Mayor Steve Miller said. “There’s been a lot of expenses; this has cost us a lot of money.”

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The December 2017-filed lawsuit alleges manufacturers of prescription opioids “grossly misrepresented” the risks of long-term use of the prescribed drugs for people with chronic pain. It also claims distributors “failed to properly monitor suspicious orders” of prescriptions which the plaintiffs claim contributed to the opioid epidemic.

Ohio Northern District Court Judge Dan Polster is presiding over the lawsuit, for which a jury trial is set to begin on Oct. 21 and set to last eight weeks, according to court documents.

Fairfield city attorney John Clemmons said city officials have been discussing the lawsuit but City Council determined it was in the city’s “best interest” to be a party plaintiff in the suit, “as opposed to just a class of local governments that would be eligible for recovery, but only as a general class.”

The city of Hamilton and Butler County Board of Commissioners have already joined the class-action suit.

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Miller said the city waited to request to join the suit “to see how this played out.”

“We didn’t want to jump too soon,” he said. “But I think now is probably a good time that we enter the arena and get some skin in the game.”

Miller said it wouldn’t cost the city anything to join — attorneys will be paid a percentage of any financial settlement dollars — “but it could cost us if we don’t join because we won’t have a seat at the table representing us.”

While financial relief is being sought, Clemmons said the ultimate resolution is designed to abate a public nuisance.

“As a way of doing that, it is to seek relief from these manufacturers and distributors that have, in our opinion, caused the crisis here,” said Clemmons. “So part of that will be injunction relief, and part of it will be monetary damages.”

While how any money awarded to the plaintiffs is spent would be up to the governing bodies, Clemmons said the court could dictate any terms of a potential settlement.

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