Salem has become the latest locality to join in possible legal action in the fight against the opioid addiction epidemic, and ways to recoup some of the costs associated with the battle.
At Monday night’s Salem City Council meeting, council members voted unanimously, with Councilman James Martin, absent to hire a legal team to look at options.
The pending retainer agreement is with firms of Sandford Heisler Sharp LLP and Kaufman & Canoles P.C. Salem would pay no fees unless the firms win cases for the localities they are representing against big pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, and dealers, Salem City Attorney Steve Yost explained.
Salem, like Roanoke County and Roanoke City, hope to recoup some money to pay for police and EMS, social services, courts and other agencies’ time and expenditures caused by dealing with opioid drug cases.
The legal team would help Salem analyze damages associated with opioid drug cases such as Oxycontin and would represent Salem in court, Yost said.
The number of cases of deaths, injuries, neglected children, burglaries and other crimes has risen throughout Virginia so much that the state’s Health Commissioner has declared the Commonwealth’s opioid addiction problem a public health emergency, the council’s resolution noted.
In June, the Virginia attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, which makes Oxycontin, because of what the state says are false claims, and for violating consumer protection laws.
More than 40 counties and cities have retained those attorneys, Yost said. There are other law firms doing similar work, he noted.
After the meeting, Yost said this seemed the right time to go forward with the idea of hiring an outside legal team. He said Salem had been watching what other jurisdictions are doing.
In making the motion to go forward, Vice Mayor Jane Johnson said, “This is an ever-increasing problem that has cost the city quite a bit. I believe we ought to join our neighboring jurisdictions in passing this resolution.”
Yost said he expects that the law firms will be ready to move in 30 days. First, the city and consultants will assess damages Salem might have incurred from opioid-related causes.