Neither the city of Gillette nor Campbell County have plans to join a nationwide lawsuit against a major prescriptions drug company after more than a handful of Wyoming municipalities and counties have joined the lawsuit.
City Administrator Patrick Davidson said the city’s attorney, Tony Reyes, has looked into the feasibility of joining the lawsuit but found that it wouldn’t be financially beneficial to Gillette.
“There are over 2,000 plaintiffs suing one drug manufacturer and distributors and with that, it’s been a race to the courthouse,” Davidson said. “One issue with these class-action lawsuits is the first groups can settle up fairly effectively and then funds start to diminish.”
Davidson said Reyes and he looked at how the city could join the lawsuit, but the upfront costs and work from the city’s side didn’t line up with what it would bring in if it were to join the lawsuit.
“We ran the analysis and it would take an awful lot of work on our end that showed the damage of the pharmaceuticals have in our community,” Davidson said. “When you’re dealing with that number of litigants and with essentially one manufacturer, your odds of recovery is pretty remote.”
Davidson compared it to the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, where a handful of tobacco companies were sued by 46 state attorneys general. In that case, there were more companies involved, thus the settlement was more lucrative to municipalities.
The Green River City Council joined the fight in April, using reports that said Wyoming averages 16.9 opiate-related deaths for every 100,000 residents, or about 100 opioid-related deaths per year.
Davidson said he was surprised to hear such a small community like Green River joined the lawsuit. He was not surprised to see the state join, but added that the opioid crisis hasn’t affected Wyoming as much compared to other states.
“Clearly we recognize the opioid crisis as a true crisis in a lot of regards,” he said. “Thankfully, here it’s not worse than it is in other communities.”
Campbell County has chosen to stay out of the lawsuit as well. County Administrative Director Robert Palmer said commissioners discussed it last year, but decided not to join because they were not sure what the benefit would be to the county.
He added that with the change in governors, the county isn’t sure of where the lawsuit stands.
Green River joined Rock Springs, Casper, Cheyenne, Carbon County, the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the state of Wyoming in the lawsuit against ties to the opioid pharmaceutical industry that was filed in Ohio.
In total, there are more than 2,000 people, cities, counties and other entities around the United States that are suing Purdue Pharma and other drug companies for allegedly misleading the public of the dangerous and addictive qualities of opioids.
In 2015, there were 383,000 prescriptions for opioids written by licensed providers, which equals about 65% of the Wyoming population.
In the state’s lawsuit that was filed in 2018 against OxyContin creator Purdue Pharma, the state reported that it paid $2.3 million in additional Medicaid claims to treat opioid-related addiction from 2008 to 2017.
According to data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, Wyoming is generally below the national average in prescription drug misuse by people ages 12 and up.
According to a study by the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center, the rate of opiate-related deaths in Wyoming and nationally have steadily increased over time. But Wyoming has seen its rate remain steady while nationally the rate continues to rise drastically.
Between 2003 and 2005, Wyoming’s death rate from opioids per 100,000 people was 1.4. The country’s rate for the same time was 3.9.
Between 2009 and 2011, both rates were almost identical at 6.2 and 6.3. Since then, Wyoming had a rate in 2016 of 7.3 while the country’s has increased to 10.4.
Between 2014 and 2016, Wyoming averaged 42 overdose deaths from opioids, with an average of 7.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Those numbers have stabilized while the country’s has seen its rate take a sharp increase.
Deaths related to prescription drug overdose statewide increased from 19 to 96 between 2005 and 2015.
Misuse is most common for those ages 18 to 25, although the number of incidents have been declining for years.
Campbell County was only one of two counties that exceeded the state average for prescription drug misuse among students in middle and high school. Fremont County was the other.
Davidson said the Gillette City Council has been briefed on the issue and was contacted by an attorney in Jackson about the possibility of joining the lawsuit but the conversation didn’t get too far.