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St. Joseph County may join ranks in suing drug companies

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --  St. Joseph County officials held a meeting with a law firm Tuesday, to look into joining more than 10 Indiana municipalities, in filing a lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers and distributors. 

Nothing is set in stone just yet, but Commissioner Andrew Kostielney says, he feels pretty confident it'll happen.

"It's a way to help so no one else has to go through what they have had to go through," he explains, referring to families affected by the opioid epidemic. 

He's tired of seeing the opioid epidemic ravaging his own backyard and community. 

"We've got an increased burden on our local resources. So our first responders need to carry Narcan and things like that," says Kostielney. "Our court system, our police, our jail...we're just seeing a big increase in use of those services."

Tuesday, county commissions met with representatives from the Cohen & Malad law firm, based in Indianapolis, to discuss a plan to potentially participate in a lawsuit against Indiana drug companies.

Kostielney says something needs to be done. 

"Someone is responsible for these things happening," he says. "When you make the mess, you need to clean it up."

He's not the only one fighting the fight.

10 other Indiana municipalities have already filed claims, including Marshall County.

And there's more on the way.

"We probably have 30-40 clients right now, but not all of them have been filed, they're at different stages of the process," says Jeff Gibson, a partner at Cohen & Malad. 

Each lawsuit, while filed separately, has the same 15-20 defendants. 

Defendants who Gibson believes, hold responsibility in the opioid epidemic. 

"You've got manufacturers who are in the best position to know the dangers associated with their pills," he explains. "They went in and over promoted it, and over marketed it."

The defendants also include distributors, who Gibson says, failed to report "suspicious orders" of the addictive medications. 

"What is a suspicious order? Well, there's a town in West Virginia that has 3,000 residents. And over the course of 10 years, 21 million pills were pumped into that town," he says. "There are a lot of towns, small towns, where the number of pills going into it, makes no sense.

ABC57 News obtained the claim filed by Marshall County last week.  

In the 165 page document, the firm stated that the "dramatic increase of prescription opioid pain medications" was brought on by "deceptive and aggressive marketing campaigns." 

Gibson says, if St. Joseph County goes through with the lawsuit, the claims probably would look fairly similar. 

So what's the end goal?

It's not a simple answer. 

For one, reparations for the cost of lives lost and ruined, and the cost to continue to take care of the constant drug problem. 

"Cities, towns and communities can get the economic relief for what they had to incur for expenses that are being funded on the taxpayers back," says Gibson.

And another goal? To prevent this from further changing the lives of the next generation.

"[The] prevention side of things. That's the true key to this: how do we try to prevent these types of issues in the future," says Kostielney. "They created this issue and now they need to hopefully help us fix it."

The St. Joseph County Commissioners will decide whether or not to go forward with the lawsuit, during their next commissioner meeting on Feb. 20. 

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