Alamosa joins opioid litigation

ALAMOSA — Joining other plaintiffs including Alamosa County, the City of Alamosa unanimously decided to enter an opioid litigation against pharmaceutical companies.

On April 18 the Alamosa city council decided to retain Motley Rice LLC, and Speights, Worrich, Newcomb, Roth & Mitchell LLC who are spearheading the litigation. Staff recommended the action.

The law firms are seeking a settlement against manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and others who share responsibility for the opioid crisis in the communities they represent, such as Alamosa. For example, Attorney Sam Mitchell in his presentation to the Alamosa city council on Wednesday referred to the overprescribing of opioids in this area by Deb Rice who subsequently is no longer practicing here. At one point 1.6 million orders were coming into this geographic area, Mitchell said, with more than 27,000 of those flagged as suspicious.

Mitchell said the opioid epidemic has done something that has not been the case since the 1900’s — shortened the life span of the average American by two years.

Mitchell blamed pharmaceutical manufacturers for influencing the curriculums for medical school and criteria for treatment to include pain as a vital sign and the treatment for pain as a standard for health care and critical for reimbursement.

Mitchell added that the largest settlement with such drug manufacturers of $150 million in January 2017 was really a drop in the bucket, especially considering that the companies make $100 million a week. He maintained one of the reasons the penalty against pharmaceutical companies was not heavier was because there are Drug Enforcement Administration folks in Washington who are afraid to prosecute.

Mitchell said court status conferences are scheduled that might result in settlements in this case, so it is crucial for those who want to join the case to do so soon.

The city will not be responsible for attorney fees, which will be paid out of any settlement.

Councilman Jan Vigil said he believed it was in the city’s best interest to join this litigation. He mentioned some of the positive actions already taken in Alamosa to fight against the opioid epidemic including the methadone clinic, the LEAD program and police officers carrying Narcan and going after drug dealers.

“This is another piece of the puzzle to combat opioid addiction in our city,” he said.

Councilor Kristina Daniel agreed. “We have had entirely too many people dying from this in our community,” she said.

She said she did not believe this was the only solution but was part of it, and the city could use this to leverage other resources.

Mayor Ty Coleman said everyone knows someone who is touched by this epidemic, and the city must do something about this epidemic in the community.

He added, “Bad actors need to be held accountable … We need to send a strong message to them.”

Coleman said the $150 million settlement was a slap on the wrist of people who should have had handcuffs on their wrists instead.

Mitchell said, “If I could bring criminal charges, I would.” When the council agreed to join in the litigation, he said, “I look forward to working with you all and holding everybody accountable.”