In the fight against Nevada’s epidemic of opioid usage, Churchill County—along with other state counties—is considering joining forces with a Las Vegas law firm to file against manufacturers and distributors.
The law firm, Eglet Prince, discussed the national opioid impact and encouraged Churchill County Commissioners on Wednesday to file a lawsuit and possibly gain a large settlement for the state.
The firm is offering to pay all costs up front; a budgeted $15 million for the costs of prosecuting the case, without putting taxpayers at risk and without removing resources from county budget.
“Guns are not the leading cause of death in this country—opioids are,” said Attorney Robert Eglet. “We have seen first-hand how this epidemic has affected our family, neighbors, and communities.”
According to a 2017 report from the Nevada Substance Abuse Working Group, the number of prescribed drugs increased; there are 94 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 Nevada residents, and 1 in 5 high school students reported they used a prescription drug not specifically written for them.
So far, the firm persuaded Clark and Washoe counties to hire them.
The firm is touring rural counties such as Carson City, Douglas, Humbolt, Lyon, and Nye as governments from Reno and Las Vegas recommended the firm to get small Nevada towns involved.
“Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve requested we represent every county and city in the state, regardless of size,” Eglet said. “We’re serving that with our duty.”
Eglet Prince has handled civil litigation against pharmaceuticals and healthcare industries including Health Plan Nevada, sued for faulty credential policies after causing the largest, medically cause Hepatitis C outbreak in Clark County —and in history.
With over 350 lawsuits in court nationwide, there are over 800 opioid distributors with three of them making up 85 percent of the market, Eglet said.
Churchill County commissioners liked the idea but also were concerned if the county could provide data of local opioid use to benefit the firm’s research.
While the Public Health Board in Churchill County is determining health concerns in the county, opioids are not a top concern said Commissioner Bus Scharmann.
“I don’t want to say we don’t have an opioid problem in Churchill County but we’re not sure if we have the data you need, as far as the negative effects in our county,” Scharmann said. “Our local problem is methamphetamine and we have local agencies looking into it.”
Since 2000, meth use in Churchill County increased 75 percent.
But Eglet argued 80 percent of people in Churchill County are addicted to heroin because of prescription opioids.
“This isn’t for people who are just addicted to heroin,” he said. “You’re going to see a spike in heroin addiction in your county and statewide because the legislature passed a legislation to make it difficult to get an opioid prescriptions.”
Eglet explained people could purchase heroin from the streets, which contain the same ingredients and also costs less than the prescription itself.
Eglet said Nye County has a opioid prescription rate of 155—that’s more than one prescription per person. He also said 90 percent of Humbolt County’s cases circulate around opioids.
Eglet said each county in Nevada should bring its own case as there’s a more favorable forum, public policy, and control over litigation.
Nevada also has not adopted the Learned Intermediary Doctrine, which allows drug companies to blame doctors.
Carson City and Lyon County are scheduled to make a decision to join the lawsuit at the next city meetings. Nye County is expected to approve an agreement in April and Humbolt County is considering the process, along with Churchill.
“We think these counties could get these cases in faster compared to Washoe and Clark,” Eglet said. “But there’s the potential of the case ending up in Federal Court or getting lost in the shuffle, and receiving a smaller share of the recovery.”
Eglet is referring the time when former Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa signed the Master Settlement Agreement with four large tobacco companies, along with 46 states. Although the settlement was $206 billion over 25 years, Nevada only received $1.2 billion.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt has said filing these lawsuits could be a risk for Nevada; his opioid task force meeting held earlier this month focused on how responders and hospitals should obtain current information on opioid hot spots, spikes in overdoses, and deaths instead, in order to decrease the number of cases.
The opioid epidemic already has placed a financial burden on every Nevada city and county, such as increased costs for first responders and nalaxone kits in rural counties, Eglet said.
Although the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services reported state opioid-related deaths have dropped in 2016, hospitalizations and prescription rates continued to rise.
Nevada Rural Opioid Overdose Reversal also used a grant from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to train 117 EMTs for overdose calls in 2017; drug overdose deaths in Nevada increased 8 percent since 1999 ranking Nevada as the 4th highest state in drug overdose mortality rate in the country.
“In our communities, opioid drug companies continue to misrepresent the risks of long-term opioid use,” Eglet said. “Their misrepresentations have been confirmed by the FDA and CDC, and have not corrected or changed it.”
If Churchill County goes forward with the firm, the firm will then create retainer agreements and write the case on behalf of the county.
Eglet said it would be filed within the next couple of months and ready to present by 2019.