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Commissioners join opioid lawsuit

Comanche County's board of commissioners voted last week to participate in a lawsuit that attorneys say will help address the opioid epidemic gripping the country.

The action includes a resolution that announces the county has selected the legal team of the Fulmer Sill firm of Oklahoma City and the Lanier Law Firm of Houston, along with Lawton attorney John Zelbst, to serve as legal counsel to file a civil lawsuit against the manufacturers, distributors and marketers of opioids, "for penalties, damages, injunctive relief and any other remedy available by law."

In a separate action, commissioners approved a legal services agreement with those attorneys and law firms, specifying any legal fees would be paid from funds the lawsuit would bring, specifically, 25 percent of any recovered money, to be split three ways: 33.3 percent each to Fulmer Sill, Zelbst and Lanier. Central District Commission Johnny Owens said the agreement means Comanche County won't owe the attorneys any money unless those attorneys recover funds under their lawsuit.

The suit is linked to opioids, defined as a diverse class of strong pain killers used under legal prescriptions for years but increasingly abused to the point that health care experts and law enforcement officials have defined that abuse as a nationwide epidemic.

In a press release earlier this spring, the Lanier Law Firm said it was taking a lead role in partnering with state and local governments across the country to "hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for a public health emergency caused by the reckless spread of powerful and addictive prescription opioids." The firm said the suit is based on the fact pharmaceutical companies overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of using the drugs and as a result, local governments now must pay the cost of fighting addiction and related activities.

Matt Sill, representing Fulmer Sill, reminded commissioners Monday that he had talked to each one individually to outline the benefits the community would realize by participating in the lawsuit. He said the goal is to hold those responsible for the epidemic accountable while providing funds to entities that must deal with the problems opioid abuse causes. The attorneys did not discuss legal strategy they would use; Sill said that was a topic for executive session (which was not on the agenda).

Owens said the strategy made sense for commissioners, explaining it could be a way to battle problems created by the opioid epidemic without committing the county to legal fees out of its own pocket.

The Lawton Constitution

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