ALAMOSA — After a work session presentation, and based on the recommendation of Alamosa County Attorney Jason Kelly, Alamosa County Commissioners moved to retain Speights and Worrich, LLC for multidistrict ligation (MDL) against opioid manufactures and distributors during their regular meeting on Wednesday. Denver-based Speights and Worrich is the second firm to present to the commissioners, after Ochs Law Firm from Colorado Springs spoke to them in December.
“They have the experience,” Kelly said. “Our interests would certainly be represented because we have counsel at the table engaged in those settlement activities on a daily basis...They’re going to take their time to make sure that they get the right information to file an accurate and good complaint.”
Speights and Worrich, currently retained by Chaffee, Otero and Las Animas counties, will also pursue litigation against pharmacies in addition to the manufacturers and distributors.
“They had an obligation to report [abuse] and they didn’t do so,” said Speights and Worrich attorney Sam Mitchell during the work session.
They will not, however, seek damages from doctors. Similar to the other law firms around the country joining the MDL, they believe the fault doesn’t lie with them. Instead, they hold the blame on the companies that swayed doctors’ perception of opioids.
“The standard of care and medical practice and science and literature behind the opioids changed because manufacturers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to do so,” Mitchell said. “They lobbied they American Medical Association and had pain added as the fifth vital sign.”
Additionally, Mitchell said that the companies influenced key opinion leaders at continuing medical education seminars.
“When they go to their CME seminars, just like I go to my continuing legal education seminars, I don’t believe that our speakers are giving me bad information,” said Mitchell. “We believe that they are acting collectively together within the community to further our education on a topic. We have no reason to believe what they are telling us is false.”
As discussed in December, Ochs would take 25 percent of recovery funds and cap their legal expenses at 15 percent. In comparison, Speights and Worrich would take 25 percent of awarded monetary funds, but cap their take at 50 percent of monetary relief if there was a combination of injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief.
“If the county receives $1 million in monetary relief and $2 million in injunctive relief, the 25 percent fee would be $750,000,” said Mitchell.
The law firm would not receive any dollars if the county loses the suit. Additionally, the county would be reimbursed from the defendants for time and resources spent in preparing for the case.
There is pressure to file a suit sooner rather than later so the county can have more control in recovering funds than a state-lead suit. It would also help prevent a situation like the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement where interested parties have to continually apply for funds.
“Colorado got $90 million in tobacco money last year and $50 million went to [University of Colorado],” Kelly said.
Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond was in favor of more control.
“I see a real benefit to having our name on the complaint,” she said. “ It’s going to be a lot of work, I hope people are aware of how much work it is to asses your damages...We’ve got to do our best and it’s going to take extra effort on our part to do a good job.”
“It’s not going to stop or cure the problem, but it’s working on it,” Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn added. “It’s one piece of it and if we keep chipping away maybe we can make a difference.”
Speights and Worrich is scheduled to meet with Alamosa City Council next week.