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Laurens County joins class-action opioid lawsuit

The Laurens County Council voted after executive session Tuesday at its regular meeting to join a class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that are being blamed in part for the rise in opioid addictions across the country.

Spartanburg-based attorney John B. White invited the Laurens County to join in the class-action suit at its May 8 meeting, but council members took no action at that time. Last night’s vote was a unanimous 5-0. Council members Keith Tollison and David Pitts were absent.

“They’ve been contemplating joining this lawsuit for quite some time,” Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime said of council members.

Laurens County joined other Upstate counties, including Spartanburg and Greenville who are represented by White’s firm. White said there will be no costs incurred by the counties or municipalities involved in the lawsuit.

White told council in May that the drug companies producing opioid-based medications are guilty of unfair trade practices and should be held responsible for fallout from the country’s high addiction rates.

“We believe these companies have engaged in unfair trade practices by putting these drugs on the market,” White told council in May. “They didn’t put in safeguards to keep people from becoming addicted (to their drugs).”

Meanwhile, White said counties such as Laurens are faced with increased costs for law enforcement, treatment and other emergency services.

“That’s the hardest part – how somebody is going to quantify that and put all the pieces together to make it a viable lawsuit, but these people are good at that,” Caime said. “Hopefully, this lawsuit and others like it are going to bring about changes in the system.”

The state of South Carolina is also engaged in a lawsuit against the makers of OxyContin.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 630,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses between 1999-2016. In 2016, about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. involved opioids. The CDC’s website said that about 115 Americans die each day from opioid-related overdoses.

White said entering into the lawsuit would not involve any expense for the county. If the county receives a monetary award from the case, White’s law firm would receive 25 percent of the award as payment.

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