By Dermot Connolly
Orland Park, Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge are among 24 Illinois municipalities that are suing to recoup costs associated with opioid addiction in their communities.
In May, Oak Lawn and 10 other Illinois communities joined together in the first “mass-action” lawsuit filed in state court against drug manufacturers, distributors and three doctors. On July 19, Orland Park, Chicago Ridge, and the Orland Fire Protection District were among 13 plaintiffs that filed a second lawsuit against the same entities.
“I expect many more municipalities to join in the coming months,” said Alfred Murray, an attorney with Edelson PC, representing both groups. He expects, as is common practice, that the lawsuits will eventually be joined together as one.
“We have alleged and we think we can prove that the defendants have been involved in a years-long campaign to promote false information about opioids and their addictive nature, creating the epidemic of addiction we have seen in municipalities across the state,” said Murray.
“This is a crisis that has struck rich and poor communities the same. Demographics don’t matter,” said Murray. Other municipalities involved include the villages of Merrionette Park, Broadview, Dolton, Hoffman Estates, Maywood, North Riverside, Posen, River Grove and Stone Park; and the cities of Harvey and Peoria.
The three medical doctors named in the suit are William McMahon, Paul Madison and Joseph Giacchino, who are accused of running a “pill mill” out of their medical offices in Riverside. They allegedly overprescribed pain medication, often without examining the patients, and all three have lost their licenses to practice medicine.
Among the claims made against the defendants in the lawsuits are: public nuisance, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, insurance fraud, deceptive practices, conspiracy and unjust enrichment.
“There are multiple medications at issue. Opioids, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and others were always considered the medicine of last resort,” said Murray.
“We allege that the opioid manufacturers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in promotion of the drugs, as not as harmful as once thought.”
He said the plaintiffs are asserting that the manufacturers “planted their own research” to back up their claims, and hired distributors to promote and sell the drugs to doctors.
Murray said dependence on opioid painkillers often results in patients turning to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl when their supplies are cut off.
“This crisis knows no bounds. The municipalities are trying to protect their residents and stop this epidemic,” said the attorney.
He pointed out that municipalities are burdened both by the cost of drugs such as Narcan, which is used to reverse overdoses. Seemingly every week, there are reports of local police and paramedics using Narcan to save lives of people suffering from heroin overdoses, and Murray said it all costs money.
Locally, Palos Heights, Palos Park and Orland Park all reported “saves” in 2017 by emergency personnel using Narcan to rescue people who had overdosed.
The attorney pointed out that besides dealing with the cost of treating addiction, municipalities also are faced with the thefts and other crimes committed by people looking for money for their next fix. The lawsuit states that the epidemic is costing $500 billion annually nationwide, with 351,000 opioid-related deaths since 1991.
“Oak Lawn is seeing up close not only the human tragedy on loved ones that this substance abuse plague is causing, but also the economic and public safety burden it places on our taxpayers who foot the bill to send first responders and other employees to the scene of overdoses and erratic behavior. This trend today must be stopped and those directly responsible must be held accountable,” said Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen.
After the Orland Park Village Board agreed to join the latest lawsuit earlier this month, Village Manager Joe La Margo noted that it will not cost the municipalities anything unless a settlement is reached in their favor.
Murray said the plaintiffs are seeking injunctions and declaratory judgments against the defendants, as well as damages.
“It will be our responsibility to determine how much the epidemic is costing the communities,” said Murray. “This case will be going on for a long time,” he predicted.