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Beltrami County may join opioid lawsuit

BEMIDJI—The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners will decide Tuesday whether or not to join litigation against opioid manufacturers.

Over the past year, several Minnesota counties, as well as some American Indian tribes, have initiated lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids, alleging the current epidemic is directly related to their marketing behavior and negligence.

The recommendation that will be before commissioners on Tuesday will be to authorize County Attorney David Hanson to join the litigation.

"The Association of Minnesota Counties have been on top of it because other states have been on top of it," Beltrami County Administrator Kay Mack said. "Since counties are at the wrong end of the line when it comes to paying for out-of-home placements, the counties were thinking 'We need to be standing in line as litigants.' That's how it's come up."

If the board desires to pursue legal action, the suggestion is to pass a motion authorizing Hanson to select a firm and file a suit.

"We've been watching it play out for a while and it came up with the board several months ago when we were in between attorneys," Mack said. "So, we wanted to give David a chance to settle in."

So far, Mack said 14 Minnesota counties have made the decision to enter litigation.

In 2016, the Minnesota Department of Health states that 395 people died from opioid overdoses. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota health care providers wrote 3.5 million prescriptions for opioids in 2016, enough for 62 percent of the state's population.

In November, the Pioneer Press reported that the county attorneys' lawsuits will allege the flood of pills is due to a dishonest campaign back to the late 1990s to convince doctors and patients that opioids were not addictive and were a safe way to treat chronic pain.

Additionally, the Pioneer Press reported that attorneys were claiming the easy access to pills led to widespread opioid dependence with addicts often turning to illicit drugs when their prescriptions ran out.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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