In response to a nationwide opioid crisis, Pittsfield township joined litigation against the country’s largest producers of opioid drugs following a resolution passed last week by the Board of Trustees.
The unanimous 5-0 decision makes Pittsfield the first community within Washtenaw County to join the multi-district class action lawsuit. Trustees Gerald Krone and Yameen Jafer were absent.
Pittsfield joins communities in neighboring counties, including Canton, Clinton, Dearborn and Livonia in cooperation with the litigation. The lawsuit targets numerous opioid manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceuticals, as well as several opioid wholesalers and distributors, such as AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation and Cardinal Health.
Robert Sickels, an attorney from the Sommers Schwartz Law Offices, presented the board with information regarding opioid-related overdoses in Michigan and in Washtenaw County. Citing the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sickels said opioid prescriptions in Michigan increased 41 percent between 2009 and 2015, with the state ranking nationally 10th in prescriptions and 15th in prescription-related deaths. According to the Washtenaw County Health Department, opioid related overdose deaths have tripled since the beginning of the decade, increasing from 25 deaths in 2011 to 75 deaths in 2018. Sickels said a common trait found throughout the national crisis includes doctors and medical providers who overprescribe to their patients. Pittsfield Township has witnessed a 22 percent increase in opioid-related overdoses and deaths just in the last yea
“I had two hip replacements, one in ’07 and one ’08,” Sickels said. “I can recall after each operation, I was given 90 pills of oxycontin. What did I need for 90 pills? This is how you create a secondary market, by over prescribing.”
Trustees Supervisor Mandy Grewal spoke in favor of joining the litigation before the board’s vote on the resolution, saying it would help protect the township’s residents.
“This is a topic that deserves so much attention – whatever we can do to move the needle on holding those accountable in creating this crisis that is attacking the fabric of our communities is imperative,” Grewal said. “Folks elect us here to be their guardians and watch out for them.”
In a press release issued Friday, Grewal elaborated.
“We are hopeful this lawsuit will help Pittsfield Township recover some of the enormous taxpayer costs we spend combating this epidemic that could otherwise be used to better solve crimes and protect our community. Every dime we can recover will go back into our public safety operations along with addiction and mental health treatment programming to help residents in Pittsfield Township and Washtenaw County turn their lives around,” Grewal said. "As elected officials, our community and residents look to us to protect and fight for their safety. For years, the manufacturers and distributors of such opioids as Oxycodone and Fentanyl have made obscene amounts of profits by preying on the mental and physical ailments of our residents. I would find it unconscionable to sit around and do nothing while these folks continue to profit."
The National Prescription Opiate Litigation, MDL No. 2804, Case No. 17-md-02804, is assigned to the Northern District of Ohio’s (Eastern Division) U.S. District Court with Judge Dan Aaron Polster.